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Jan 27, 2009 08:45 AM

Why do you wash lettuce?

As I was spinning my washed lettuce for a lunchtime salad, it occurred to me that washing lettuce is probably only truly useful if there is dirt or sand in the lettuce. I was washing some mesclun salad that was really clean. I know that you're supposed to wash lettuce in case anyone carrying an illness might have touched it along the food chain, but is washing lettuce in cold water really going to kill anything that might be on the lettuce? Aside from if the lettuce is actually dirty, does washing lettuce do anything except make you feel better? So take a cabbage that you're tuning into slaw, for example-- you remove the outer leaves and then you shred it, so why would you wash iceburg lettuce that you've removed the outer leaves from? Or lettuces that are grown hydroponically? I would really like to know if there is any scientific evidence that this is worthwhile, or is it just a big waste of time?

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  1. You are rinsing off at least some of the residual pesticide left on the leaves (could be improved by adding some citric acid/lemon salt--which is the main ingredient in fruit and vegetable washes); also the flouride and other chemicals in tap water do a little to help with cleaning off other yuck:

    "In fact, the FDA says that all fruits and vegetables, including those that are organically grown, could benefit from a thorough washing to remove soil, surface microbes, and some pesticides."
    "To remove exterior bacteria, all you need to do is rub your produce under running water with your hands."

    Regarding hydroponics, they still may be sprayed with pesticides, unless they're the special Mickey Mouse pumpkins which are in forms.

    1. A great question, I have often wondered same. Let's see how long it takes to get an educated answer.

      2 Replies
        1. re: Whosyerkitty

          I have to say, after 30 years of laughing at some of the advice, my mom has proved to be sacrily prescient. So I laugh derisively no longer, though I still go out with wet hair.

      1. No good reason, but I wash all lettuce, however, I've wondered about the inner part of iceberg. After removing the top 1/4 leaves, just how much junk can get into the tightly packed head of iceberg?

        1. Vegetables grow in dirt. They get handled by humans who may not have washed their hands. Some brands for some sorts of greens or veggies claim they have washed before bagging, so they're clean to eat.

          If you think it's clean and hasn't been mishandled, don't bother washing it. There are things I buy at the local farmer's market I don't bother to wash. Bags of greens that say they've been washed then bagged, I don't usually wash those. Other stuff I wash off. I don't like grit in my teeth and the thought of someone's poopy hand on my food is ewgie (I continue to be disturbed by how many people don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom). ;D What's odd about this is I'm not really germphobic at all. I've just seen too many people sneezing on uncovered produce in the supermarket to be comfortable not washing it off first. :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: Morganna

            I don't usually buy the bagged lettuce mixes, but I'd still wash it. Weren't there some cases of illnesses due to e. coli in the bags a few years ago? Or would that make a difference.

          2. Washing and sometimes scrubbing fruit and veggies cleans away most pesticides, soil (produce grows in soil not dirt), and surface microbes. There are residual batcteria from irrigation systems which splash up on things that grow close to the ground. However, if I have a tight, fresh head of lettuce for instance, I take away the outside leaves then use the rest as is. I do the same for cabbage.... for all else I wash and dry. It just makes such sense to take some precautions, especially if one has a compromised immune system or is cooking for small children.