I know it can seem tedious, even annoying, to have to wash produce before you cook. Sometimes it feels like such a chore, an extra step, before you can get dinner on the table. However, whether you cook it or use it raw, produce always needs washing. A good scrub, run, or shake under water, followed by a thorough rinse, will remove dirt, grit, and sand that can affect the quality, texture, and taste of your finished dishes. As a safety precaution, a thorough cleaning will also help remove any potentially harmful bacteria that may be present.
Always give each vegetable a good look up and down to see if mud or sand is hiding. Some vegetables have unique quirks that require special attention. It's good practice to slice leeks and then wash them, or cut a vertical slit through its top layers and pull them back to rinse between them. Celery, bok choy, head lettuces, and some chicories need a rub and a rinse at the base of their stems, where dirt has a tendency to gather.
Vegetables and Fruits with Thick Skins
Fruits and vegetables with thick skins need rinsing if you plan to use the raw flesh. If bacteria is present on the skins, cutting through unwashed skin will draw it into the flesh that you eat. (Think avocados, melons, and citrus fruits.)
Hearty Greens, Lettuce, and Herbs
Fill a large bowl with cold water, then gently immerse the greens or herbs. Agitate them, gently swishing them back and forth. Lift the leaves so as not to disturb any sand and grit that has settled at the bottom of the bowl. Drain the water, rinse the bowl, and repeat as needed until there is no visible dirt or sand remaining. Let the greens or herbs drain in a colander then spin them or wrap them in a lint-free kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. This method works well for scallions and ramps, too.
Rinse and rub roots with your fingertips under cool running water. Give particularly dirty roots a good cleaning with a vegetable scrub brush, then rinse the roots. Alternatively, place the roots in a bowl of water and scrub the roots partially under water. Rinse the roots thoroughly.
Other Vegetables and Fruits
Rinse and rub other vegetables and fruits — like zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes — under cold water with your hands. For vegetables with grooves around the stems, check for dirt. You may prefer to fill a bowl with water, then dunk, shake, rub, and rinse produce.
Make Washing Routine
Getting into the routine of washing produce is good food safety practice and ensures you set up your cooking for success. If washing is automatic, you know your food is as safe as possible to eat and will allow the real ingredients to shine.
Tip: In general, it is always best to wash produce right before you use it to maximize shelf life. If you really need to cut prep time in order to make weeknight dinners possible, you can wash veggies in advance. Just make sure you allow vegetables to dry completely before storing them. Wrap delicate greens and herbs in a lint-free towel or a barely damp paper towel. (Change the towels as needed.) Use pre-washed produce as soon as possible.