Here's why it's important to wash all of your fruit—yes, even bananas!
Credit: Chris Court

Should a peach be washed the same way as an orange? What about cantaloupe? After you buy fresh fruit, is it really necessary to wash it all? If so, what is the best way to do that? Read on for our guidelines to washing all of your fruit safely at home.

Why Wash Fruit?

On its journey from the field or orchard to the supermarket shelf or farmers' market stall, or even from your kitchen garden to your supper table, fresh fruit can become contaminated in several ways: In its growing stage, fruit may be contaminated by animals, undesirable microbes in the soil or water, or by workers' poor hygiene practices. For non-organic fruit there is herbicide and pesticide residue to consider. Once it is harvested, fruit passes through more hands as it is sorted and packaged. Every additional handling increases its risk of contamination, even after purchase, either at the store or at home.

Despite all these possibilities, it's important to remember that most people do not get sick from eating fresh, raw fruit that they have prepared at home, and the health benefits of eating fresh fruit far outweigh the possible risks. But anyone who has a compromised immune systems is at higher risk of food poisoning, as are people over the age of 65 and under the age of five. Common sense food safety should be a part of everyone's daily life.

To steer clear of the persistent issues of pesticide residue on some fruits, you may want to choose organic options over conventionally-grown fruit. But this is not always possible, either due to higher cost or lack of availability. When in doubt wash all fruit, then peel before eating. You'll also want to stay informed about which fruits tend to have the highest absorption rates of pesticides (hint: strawberries). Finally, bear in mind that it is not possible to clean 100 percent of bacteria off some fruits, especially softer ones like berries that cannot be scrubbed. But rubbing and then rising well under running water can lower the number of harmful microbes if they are present.

General Tips for Washing Fruit

First, wash your hands thoroughly before touching the fruit, then wash them again after you are done. Be sure to wash fruit just before using it as opposed to when you first bring it home. Washing fruit before storage can encourage bacterial growth and mold.

Next, wash your fruit before peeling to prevent contaminants being transferred from the skin to the knife and back to the peeled fruit. If you intend peeling a thick-skinned fruit before eating it, it's fine to use a little soap while scrubbing to help remove waxy coatings that bacteria enjoy clinging to, as well as possible residual herbicide or pesticide. After washing and rinsing some soap residue may remain on the skins: The FDA has not evaluated the effect of this type of unintentional residue-consumption (although we wash our dishes with soap all the time). If in doubt, peel if you have used soap during washing.

Firm-skinned fruits such as apples can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush (disinfect the brush in the dishwasher, or rinsing in a bleach solution of one teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart of water.) Rub softer fruits well with your hands under running water. Berries can be placed in a strainer and rinsed under running water. Experts recommend always rinsing washed fruit under running water. Swishing it in a bowl may just redistribute possible harmful microbes. Last, dry washed fruit with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.

How to Wash Firm Skinned Fruit

When it comes to washing melons, be sure to scrub the rough rinds with a brush under running water before cutting or peeling (to prevent your cutting knife from spreading possible harmful microbes from the skin onto the flesh inside). For fruits like apples and pears, scrub the skin with a brush and rinse well under running water. Apples tend to have high pesticide residue rates so peel them before eating if you're not sure.

Scrub citrus before rinsing under running water. If you are using the zest, you may want to skip any soaping. Pineapple should be washed before peeling to prevent possible microbes on the skin contaminating the fruit via your cutting knife.

How to Wash Soft Skinned Fruit

Tropical fruits like bananas, papaya, and mango are always peeled, which means you can use a little soap to scrub them before rinsing under running water. You've never washed your bananas before? Now's the time to start—they've been handled by hands, too, which means they can be dirty.

Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots should be rubbed firmly then rinsed under running water. Grapes, berries, and cherries should all be washed under running water just before eating.


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