How to Wash Vegetables, Salad & Fruit During Pregnancy

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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During pregnancy, you’ll hear a lot about washing fruit and vegetables, including salad. After all, that’s the sort of food you should be eating more of, right?

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve put together on the safest way of washing produce when you’re pregnant, and the reasons why.

If you’re looking for the best food prep accessories that help you wash everything properly in pregnancy, my recommended ‘must-haves’ are listed here.

Tips on Washing Produce in Pregnancy

Buy As Fresh As Possible

The fresher the fruit or veggies, the better. You don’t have to go out of your way to find anything special like organic produce when you’re pregnant, but it’s good to buy fresh, quality produce rather than some that have been sitting around for a long time.

Farmers’ Markets can be a good source of fresh produce, and you can also ask about how the fruit and veg have been produced, including pesticide treatments. If the produce is particularly soiled, it’s good practice to wash your hands after handling it.

Cut Away any Bruised or Damaged Spots

Bruised or damaged areas of fruit and vegetables can allow bacteria to thrive (source: FDA).

Remove and dispose of any of these areas on your produce. Throw out any damaged, bruised or spoiled salad leaves, too.

Wash or Peel Produce That Has Come into Contact With Soil

Most of the bacteria on fruit and veg will be in the soil, on the surface (source: NHS). Soil can contain many pathogens, including E Coli and Toxoplasma gondii, which causes Toxoplasmosis.

Some non-obvious items might have been in contact with soil, even if they’re grown above ground (for example, apples that have fallen from the tree).

Since many important nutrients are found in the skin of fruits and vegetables, you can opt to scrub and wash them thoroughly, rather than peel them. For this, you’ll need a purpose-made vegetable scrubbing brush (my recommendations are listed here).

Give fruit or veg a final rinse after cutting or peeling. This is because bacteria on the skin or surface of fruit or veg can be transferred to the inside during chopping or slicing.

In 2011 there was a major outbreak of listeriosis from melons, where the melon skin was contaminated. Bacteria were transferred to the flesh when the melons were cut up (source: CDC).

washing potatoes under clean running water

Wash Under Clean Running Water – Don’t ‘Soak’

The best way to wash vegetables, salad, and fruit when you’re pregnant is to rinse under clean, running water.

It’s a common mistake to dip, soak or otherwise let the produce sit in a basin of water. This simply dilutes any potential bacteria, which remains on the surface of the produce when you lift it out. If you want to wash produce in a basin, give it a final rinse afterward.

30 seconds of scrubbing or rinsing under clean water is usually all that is needed to clean vegetables properly when you’re pregnant.

Don’t Use Harsh Cleaning Products

Clean, running water is sufficient for washing produce properly when pregnant. Harsh, chemical-based cleaners like bleach, soap or detergents should not be used to wash fruit and veg (source: FDA).

You don’t need to use a purpose-made “Veggie Wash” or “Veggie Dip” cleaning product, though many people prefer to use them in tandem with washing in order to remove more pesticides.

This is a personal preference – clean water does a good job on its own. If you want to use a veggie wash, my recommended brand is here.

washing fresh lettuce under clean running water

Why Washing Fruit & Vegetables During Pregnancy Makes Them Safer

Very often pregnant women are told to do something, but without a detailed explanation for the reasons behind it.

When it comes to washing fruit and vegetables properly in pregnancy, there are several important reasons why:

Fruit & Veg that Looks ‘Clean’ Usually Isn’t

Bacteria can get on to fruit and veg at many stages of production before it reaches your plate. A pile of waxed, shiny apples at the local supermarket may look sparkling clean, but can still harbor bacteria from a variety of sources.

During the growing process, bacteria sources include the watering or irrigation system, animal droppings (e.g. birds), pesticides, sprays and fertilizers used (source: NHS).

Once it reaches the point of sale, loose produce gets picked up, put back, and moved around by other people in the store, from the employees stacking the shelves to other shoppers picking over the fruit and veg. As my grandma used to say – you don’t know where their hands have been!

Washing is the Only Way of Making Raw Food Safe

If you’re going to eat salad, fruit or veggies raw, then washing is your only defense against bacteria, as the food isn’t going to be heated or cooked.

Whether it’s some crunchy crudites to go with a dip, a healthy leafy salad or just some cut fruit in a smoothie to get the vitamins up, washing thoroughly means you can rest easy that the food you’ve prepared is safe.

washing bunches of grapes under clean running water in the kitchen

Removing Pesticides is a Good Idea In Pregnancy

A 2018 study found that there may be a link between infertility and the consumption of fruit and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue (source: JAMA).

Although the effects on already-pregnant women have not been fully studied, exposure to pesticides in the air has been connected with developmental problems in babies (source: APA). Therefore it’s probably a good idea to remove as much pesticide residue from fruit and veg as possible, though small amounts are not likely to be harmful.

Most pesticides can be washed off via the same method of a thorough wash under running water. If you’re particularly concerned about pesticide residue, you could use a commercial veg wash (my recommended one is here), though this isn’t necessary if you prefer not to use it.

Do I Need to Wash ‘Already Washed’ Products?

Bagged or pre-prepared salad and pre-cut fruit and vegetables carry a small risk of bacterial contamination due to the way they are prepared. This is even if they say ‘ready to eat’ or ‘triple washed’.

In 2010 a report was published showing that more than 39% of pre-prepared salad samples tested positive for various types of bacterial contamination (source: WebMD). It made no difference if the salad was bagged, in a plastic clamshell, was organic or not, was pre-washed, or whether it came from a small or large producer.

The levels on this occasion were not high enough to prompt a recall, however, this led to advice that even ‘pre-washed’ salad should still be washed again when you get it home, to be on the safe side.

There have been several recalls of pre-prepared salads, including more serious ones involving listeria contamination (source: CDC). For this reason, it’s always safest to eat salad you’ve prepared and washed yourself.

Overall, washing fruit veg and salad properly is fairly easy in pregnancy, if you use clean, running water and remember to give produce with soil on it a bit of extra care and attention. Eating fresh produce is one of the best ways to up your nutrient-dense food intake, which is so important in pregnancy.

If you’re interested in other hygiene tips, check out my recommended items for better food hygiene. You might also like to look at some products that help you keep a cleaner kitchen in pregnancy, and also some pregnancy-safe items that help you maintain good hand hygiene, too.