Consumers are directed to wash produce before consumption for a variety of reasons, whether it is organic or conventionally farmed. Some types, especially leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and chard, need to be washed even more thoroughly because they grow in close contact with irrigation water. If you wash produce, you will ensure better flavor and reduce the risk of eating contaminated foods.
The most important reason to wash produce is to remove surface dirt, bacteria, fungus, insects, and slugs. Organic produce in particular tends to have a higher population of slugs and insects, which is not unhealthy, but can result in an unpleasant flavor or texture. All produce also carries a certain amount of dirt, whether it is a root vegetable or a tree fruit. It is also a good idea to wash produce so that you can remove bacteria and fungus, which occur naturally on most crops, but can cause stomach upset.
Consumers should also wash produce that has been conventionally farmed because it often has traces of pesticides and in some cases herbicides. Conventional farms utilize pesticides to prevent infestation of their crops, and consumption of pesticides is dangerous, even in small amounts. In some instances, farms use genetically modified “round-up ready” crops which are designed to resist certain herbicides, preventing crops from being overtaken by aggressive weeds. Many herbicides are also harmful, and if you wash produce, it will eliminate many of these dangerous chemical traces.
Produce is also handled by a large number of people. Even highly mechanized farming operations expose produce to human hands, and the produce handlers in the supermarket often handle produce extensively. Finally, individual shoppers also handle fruits and vegetables while they are picking out the perfect produce. Many grocery store shoppers do not wash their hands before handling produce, so it is up to you to wash produce and remove any bacterial traces they may have left behind.
All types of produce can be washed, although different techniques are required for different types. Many markets also sell special soaps and washes for produce. To wash hard produce like root vegetables and some tree fruits, scrub it with a produce brush under running water. For more delicate vegetables like leafy greens, wash produce under cool running water until the surface dirt is removed and then use a salad spinner to dry it. Fruits and berries should also be washed, especially fruit which grows on the ground, like strawberries.