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Arctic Mama

Eating unwashed produce, what are the risks *really*?

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Can someone help me judge risk here, because it seems like the literature is all over the place.  Say I eat a head or lettuce from Costco and don’t wash it first, is the risk primarily pesticides? Animal poop? Salmonella?

What about berries eaten as we pick at a u-pick farm?  Do we really need to not eat as we go and make sure it is washed properly at home?

I never know how much to do, especially with my local and CSA produce.  Help? Guidance?

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Farm picked produce can have ecoli or listeria- often human in origin.   Sometimes it’s from manure that has seeped into the irrigation system. Sometimes it’s from workers not washing their hands after using the restroom.   Pesticides can also be an issue but I don’t think those give you the acute food poisoning type symptoms that you can get from bacteria.  

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Oh, all the pick your own berry places here allow you to eat while picking.  I wouldn't worry about that too much.  

Lettuce here is rinsed well in a colander then soaked for 15-20 minutes.   One more rinse through. Then spun with the salad spinner.  I worry more about store bought stuff than stuff from our CSA though all gets similar treatment.  

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I don't have a reference for this so take it with a pinch of salt lol, but I have heard of the risk of Hep C from people peeing on strawberries at pick your own places.

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My parents grow raspberries and black berries and have a cute little You-Pick farm.  We eat them right off the plants - that is when they are the best! They do not spray any chemicals during the growing season, so there's not a danger of ingesting pesticides. (They are not organic but are very conscientious, and you should realize that organic does not mean no spraying - there are organic pesticides and fertilizers that are not necessarily safer - different discussion)  

There may be dust, but the berries grow fast and there is grass between the rows, so it's not like you are walking in dirt when you pick. There are sometimes bugs around the berries and maybe they leave droppings or germs from their feet (sometimes I have seen a little beetle, but not flies. The bees are busy with the flowers and not the berries. I can't think of other bugs around - they don't seem to have aphids or other little creepy crawlies.)

My mom says not to wash the berries until just before eat them because they will break apart and go bad really fast after being washed. I feel fine eating them unwashed, and so do their customers - my parents have a little tip jar for the berries you ate while picking!  They don't have many strawberries, but strawberry picking is a little different with the berries right on the ground. I would wash those  (just before eating) because the soil can carry lots of stuff.

I wash any other fruit or veg that they grow, but mainly to get rid of dust/soil - apples and peaches are on the tree much longer than berries, tomatoes need a quick rinse, etc. I think you can tell quickly if a small u-pick is a clean place. Lots of flies and bugs and animal droppings around would be a big warning.  

Anyway, that's my U-pick advice. Wash it if you want to. Eat while picking - the sun is a good disinfect-er, right? But be kind and pay a little extra, especially if your kids are really going to town eating while picking!!

Just read the comment above - it's possible that pickers might pee in the fields, but hopefully not on the berries.  That's terrible.  My parents have lots of little families come by, and I imagine there are some potty training boys who just gotta go. Raspberries are generally higher off the ground....  But they do have a bathroom available!! 

I wash fruit and veg from the grocery store, but I don't use a special spray or wash. 

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DH gets honey-crusted lesions around his mouth if he eats strawberries that haven't been washed, but they were not u-pick. I agree though that closer to the ground means dirtier.

I would wash anything from a store or CSA. We wash most things from the yard, but often just before eating. There are a lot of creepy crawlies in this state that I don't remember seeing where I grew up, lol! Also lots of pollen and dust--more traffic, more wind, more mold in the air--it's just kind of gross here. and that gets on stuff.

Anything with greens or lettuce needs good washing and/or soaking, especially if super fresh--slugs and bugs hide, and there are lots of them!!! 

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Awe. My lazy self was hoping you all would tell me to eat with abandon, but it sounds like there are multiple good reasons to wash 😭

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I wash, or try to , everything delicate and that tends to have health alerts from time to time like lettuce and spinach from store ...   (and even from home garden), really pretty much all store vegetables and fruits where outsides get eaten and likely could hold pathological organisms, pesticides, or other stuff I don’t want to eat.

I do not wash peel able fruit like a banana  (assuming I am not eating or using the peel— so normally not lemon or orange, but yes if I were using the zest or peel for marmalade...) 

 I theoretically wash things, especially like lettuce, even from my own property which is really really organic (but stuff falls from sky and wild animals can spread things like e-coli).  

However, in reality a lot of blackberries get eaten without washing, and close to zero wild strawberries or thimble berries ever are anything other than pick and immediately pop in mouth foods. 

If picking at a u pick farm, I would probably go ahead and also eat berries directly if allowed.   The more organic the methods (regardless of official certification) the more that would be so, especially if it is fruit up high (like a blueberry probably) not dragging in soil (like strawberries might be). 

Tough outsides fruits like Apples, from home property, I at least usually wipe on a shirt before eating them, because... pollution from air, birds ... might as well.  I would wash them if at home, but often they are encountered starting on a walk headed away from home.  Soft berries obviously don’t lend themselves to wiping like that. 

Apples from store I wash.  

If I think something like cantaloupe could have mold or any problem on outside, I wash prior to cutting. 

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If picking myself I avoid berries near where there’s been traffic.  Without leaded gasoline this may be less an issue than it once was, but I still don’t fancy eating exhaust fume residues.  

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I've been brought up by a paranoid grandmother who taught me to wash rice till it ran clear like even 5 or 6 times. What is the context for this you ask ? Well, have you seen what lives in a rice field ? Rats, frogs and even fish that all the standing cranes look cute eating. Then people walk all over the rice as part of cleaning it or clearing the chaff, not exactly sure but it is a part of the cleaning process in the fields. Organic means more critters, non-organic means pesticides. There is not a field in the world that does not have animal and even human poop, people peeing in fields. Banana groves are famous for people peeing in them. We get produce from all over the world, why would not wash any of it ? Never, eve, ever, ever skimp on washing anything you eat especially produce you eat raw. 

There is even an acceptable amount of ewww stuff in food. 🤢

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/04/health/insect-rodent-filth-in-food-wellness/index.html

 

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2 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

Can someone help me judge risk here, because it seems like the literature is all over the place.  Say I eat a head or lettuce from Costco and don’t wash it first, is the risk primarily pesticides? Animal poop? Salmonella?

What about berries eaten as we pick at a u-pick farm?  Do we really need to not eat as we go and make sure it is washed properly at home?

I never know how much to do, especially with my local and CSA produce.  Help? Guidance?

It's interesting that you ask this today, because yesterday, as I was reading someone's comment about (paraphrasing) wearing a mask to reassure others, I immediately thought about how I don't eat raspberries around my dad for that very reason. He (retired CDC epidemiologist) feels strongly that one cannot clean raspberries effectively and the risk of e coli contamination is high enough that he will not eat them (and REALLY does not want family eating them.)  That said, though I am sure his worry is based on information he was privy to professionally, I do eat raspberries, and sometimes in significant quantity. We rinse them here, though if there is really e coli contamination, I'm not sure that would disinfect adequately.

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2 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

Can someone help me judge risk here, because it seems like the literature is all over the place.  Say I eat a head or lettuce from Costco and don’t wash it first, is the risk primarily pesticides? Animal poop? Salmonella?

What about berries eaten as we pick at a u-pick farm?  Do we really need to not eat as we go and make sure it is washed properly at home?

I never know how much to do, especially with my local and CSA produce.  Help? Guidance?

My family of origin were market gardeners and they have always been very strict about washing the produce 

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8 minutes ago, Ausmumof3 said:

My family of origin were market gardeners and they have always been very strict about washing the produce 

Do you mean THEY washed it carefully before it went to market, or washed stuff carefully before personally eating it?

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2 hours ago, TCB said:

I don't have a reference for this so take it with a pinch of salt lol, but I have heard of the risk of Hep C from people peeing on strawberries at pick your own places.


hep C is a blood-borne, doesn’t spread through urine, you must be thinking of A or D or fecal contamination which would include E   

That said, Hep C can remain viable in dried blood droplets for weeks and it’s the only one you can’t vaccinate against, so it’s pretty awful.  

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35 minutes ago, Ailaena said:


hep C is a blood-borne, doesn’t spread through urine, you must be thinking of A or D or fecal contamination which would include E   

That said, Hep C can remain viable in dried blood droplets for weeks and it’s the only one you can’t vaccinate against, so it’s pretty awful.  

Yes you're right it is blood-borne. I think it was probably Hep A

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Just generally......produce grows in dirt.  And that means it's dirty lol.  There's a whole lot of crap (literally and figuratively) in dirt.  I just harvested a bunch of lettuce today, and I totally gave each individual leaf a good washing.  And even then....I found some dirt when I was cutting it.  I promise that no one has been peeing or pooing in my garden and I wash my hands after going potty....but that doesn't mean the produce doesn't need washing lol.

Now....one thing I do not wash is bananas.  We don't eat the peels and really, never handle the part we eat with our hands anyway, so bananas.....I don't bother.  Oh, and probably melons.  I don't generally wash off a whole watermelon before cutting it up.  Maybe I should, but often, a watermelon sits around for several days before I get around to cutting anyway so....🤷‍♀️

 

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3 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

Awe. My lazy self was hoping you all would tell me to eat with abandon, but it sounds like there are multiple good reasons to wash 😭

Well, probably all of those (us) that just do a cursory water-rinse and call it good -- we're laying low because we don't wanna be judged... 😋

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28 minutes ago, alisoncooks said:

Well, probably all of those (us) that just do a cursory water-rinse and call it good -- we're laying low because we don't wanna be judged... 😋

Yep...that would be me.   I am immensely relieved I am not alone.

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My method for EVERYTHING is a splash of vinegar. Even stuff from my garden that I KNOW hasn’t been peed on gets cleaned. I have a large salad spinner. I put my veggies in the basket, put the basket in the bowl, fill with cold water, add a splash of vinegar, and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing and spinning. 
 

There is ALWAYS something in the water to make me glad I did this. Even clean looking fruit and veggies will leave either dirt or bugs in the rinse water. Sometimes I skip cleaning herbs when I’m in a hurry, but I know I’m cooking something I should’ve rinsed off. 
 

The salad spinner does make it easier to soak, strain, rinse, and dry. 

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1 hour ago, alisoncooks said:

Well, probably all of those (us) that just do a cursory water-rinse and call it good -- we're laying low because we don't wanna be judged... 😋

Guilty!

ETA - of the washing technique, not the judging, lol

Edited by brehon
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18 minutes ago, KungFuPanda said:

My method for EVERYTHING is a splash of vinegar. Even stuff from my garden that I KNOW hasn’t been peed on gets cleaned. I have a large salad spinner. I put my veggies in the basket, put the basket in the bowl, fill with cold water, add a splash of vinegar, and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing and spinning. 
 

There is ALWAYS something in the water to make me glad I did this. Even clean looking fruit and veggies will leave either dirt or bugs in the rinse water. Sometimes I skip cleaning herbs when I’m in a hurry, but I know I’m cooking something I should’ve rinsed off. 
 

The salad spinner does make it easier to soak, strain, rinse, and dry. 

 

I mostly agree, though unrecognized macroscopic bugs might give protein and unrecognized dirt might give minerals.  😉

 That worries me less than pathogenic microbes, pollutants, etc.  

Though the macroscopic things that wash off can be a hint of microscopic presences.  

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I always have just given everything a quick rinse. I just don't have the time to do more. However, after reading this thread I have decided not to eat fruit or vegetables anymore even though I love them.

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A lot of produce comes from china these days (onions, ginger, garlic etc) - I read the label to check for this before I grab any produce (and I read the label on the loose vegetable bins which indicate country of origin) - the reason this is important is because they use human waste in agriculture in china. I also read somewhere that Washington approved the use of human waste in agriculture. Which means that all it takes is someone not doing their job correctly for the produce to be tainted with e. coli. So, wash everything with cool, running water. If that is hard to do, buy the bagged salads, they are already pre-washed. If you are cooking the produce, even though it is best to wash first, at least the high temperature will kill the germs.

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7 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

Awe. My lazy self was hoping you all would tell me to eat with abandon, but it sounds like there are multiple good reasons to wash 😭

I never wash lettuce. Ever. My mom never did and it just stuck. Everything else gets a quick rinse but . . .that's it.

Should I read the other replies? 😬

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13 minutes ago, AbcdeDooDah said:

I never wash lettuce. Ever. My mom never did and it just stuck. Everything else gets a quick rinse but . . .that's it.

Should I read the other replies? 😬

You’re making me feel better about only cursorily washing it, myself?  I’ll try to be better though!

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20 minutes ago, AbcdeDooDah said:

I never wash lettuce. Ever. My mom never did and it just stuck. Everything else gets a quick rinse but . . .that's it.

Should I read the other replies? 😬

 

6 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

You’re making me feel better about only cursorily washing it, myself?  I’ll try to be better though!

Ok, but hear me out. The ONE time I skipped washing lettuce was because DS wanted some on his taco. I got excited that he ASKED for a vegetable, so I ran outside, grabbed a few lettuce leaves, tore them up, and tossed them on his taco. 
 

It had BUGS. It had little green bugs that my old eyes missed. I will NEVER live this down. Someone brings it up every time we have tacos. We have tacos a lot. 

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1 hour ago, Teaching3bears said:

I always have just given everything a quick rinse. I just don't have the time to do more. However, after reading this thread I have decided not to eat fruit or vegetables anymore even though I love them.

 

I hope you are joking!!!

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20 minutes ago, KungFuPanda said:

 

Ok, but hear me out. The ONE time I skipped washing lettuce was because DS wanted some on his taco. I got excited that he ASKED for a vegetable, so I ran outside, grabbed a few lettuce leaves, tore them up, and tossed them on his taco. 
 

It had BUGS. It had little green bugs that my old eyes missed. I will NEVER live this down. Someone brings it up every time we have tacos. We have tacos a lot. 

 

Next time you have tacos be ready with this:

 

Eating Aphids
Aphids are another edible insect.. Depending on what foliage they are feeding on, they can range from slightly bitter to sweet. Upon finding an infested plant or patch of plants, simply collect the aphidsand eat them fresh or incorporate them into a meal as a nutritious supplement.May 30, 2013
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9 hours ago, TCB said:

I don't have a reference for this so take it with a pinch of salt lol, but I have heard of the risk of Hep C from people peeing on strawberries at pick your own places.

You have now cured me of any desire to go to a pick your own place.  

 

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9 hours ago, TCB said:

I don't have a reference for this so take it with a pinch of salt lol, but I have heard of the risk of Hep C from people peeing on strawberries at pick your own places.

 

I have heard of this ahem...practice as well. Don't know what the risk is but evidently certain growers with a different view of fertilizing believe this is a viable option.

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10 minutes ago, CuriousMomof3 said:

You have now cured me of any desire to go to a pick your own place.  

 

Lol. I should point out that someone up thread reminded me that Hep C is blood borne so it must have been Hep A not C! Don’t know if that’s not quite so off-putting.

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Just now, TCB said:

Lol. I should point out that someone up thread reminded me that Hep C is blood borne so it must have been Hep A not C! Don’t know if that’s not quite so off-putting.

P is the off putting letter here, whether it's Hep A., or C, or D, or X.

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13 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

Awe. My lazy self was hoping you all would tell me to eat with abandon, but it sounds like there are multiple good reasons to wash 😭

I rarely wash anything.  I grew up on a farm and just never got into the habit.  I don't live in the US though. And I have never heard of people peeing at pick your own places - there are usually other people watching so surely the don't just get up and per in from of everyone?  I think food purchased off the property but not at a supermarket or fairly formal fa shop probably was washed  when I was a kid-;I just haven't done that for a while.  We did wash food to remove dirt obviously.

Edited by kiwik

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My children both contracted something similar to typhoid when we lived in China, probably from strawberries.  Hobbes was hospitalised briefly. 

I don't fear anything that extreme now, but strawberries are particularly difficult to clean effectively, as are raspberries.  I just soak them in water with a drop of washing up liquid, then rinse well, and haven't had any problems in Scotland.  I wash other salad items in plain water.  I sometimes forget to wash things that I cook and I don't worry too much about it.

Edited by Laura Corin
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5 hours ago, KungFuPanda said:

 

Ok, but hear me out. The ONE time I skipped washing lettuce was because DS wanted some on his taco. I got excited that he ASKED for a vegetable, so I ran outside, grabbed a few lettuce leaves, tore them up, and tossed them on his taco. 
 

It had BUGS. It had little green bugs that my old eyes missed. I will NEVER live this down. Someone brings it up every time we have tacos. We have tacos a lot. 

Oh yes I forgot.  After being served broccoli infested with caterpillars I inspect any broccoli with great care also other brassicas and lettuce.  It would probably be more accurate to  say I don't wash fruit.

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So this thread isn't inspired by that gross tik tok video about the "worms" (baby maggots) in strawberries?

Apparently it's common for fruit flies to lay eggs in berries. If you store them in the fridge a few days they are believed to die. People are doing things like soaking them in salt water to bring them out of the berries. I did the water/vinegar/salt version (but that was more so a cleaning idea I think than a bug thing) and I could not tell you what I saw in the bowl afterwards. I wasn't sure if that was dead bugs or just some type of thing from the fruit. 

The good news is we've been digesting these things for years and they aren't harmful. Some say don't soak in salt because it will ruin the taste? Although you rinse them first. 

I am lazy and I know that plain tap water really doesn't do much. My parents own one of those kangen machines with various settings so they can do a heavy duty clean if they want. Now for certain produce I peel it figuring that the skin is not so ideal to eat because of pesticides (apples, potatoes). Although I do like the taste of cooked potatoes with some of the skins. 

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We live in Colombia. The majority of the fruits and vegetables we buy are grown here in Colombia. Some, like Apples, come from the USA.  I believe that all of them should be washed.

ETA:   We also get a lot of Apples from Chile

 

Edited by Lanny
add ETA

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16 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

Do you mean THEY washed it carefully before it went to market, or washed stuff carefully before personally eating it?

Washed it before eating because of the sprays etc they used on growing stuff and seeing the way stuff was handled.  That said we aren’t talking a bleach bath just a water rinse.  Health department here generally recommend a vigorous wash under running water.

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Fun fact - in some places strawberries are actually grown with a layer of clean straw so they can be eaten without washing.  
 

I wonder if the reason we eat salad with vinaigrette was initially for safety reasons and then we just got a taste for it?

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4 hours ago, kiwik said:

Oh yes I forgot.  After being served broccoli infested with caterpillars I inspect any broccoli with great care also other brassicas and lettuce.  It would probably be more accurate to  say I don't wash fruit.

 

We had those little green bugs which I believe are aphids wrapped in the inner leaves of Brussels sprouts. And even if edible it is rather disgusting seeming for our culture.  Caterpillars are worse!

 

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FWIW, I do wash boxed, pre-washed greens, because bacteria multiply between the time when it's boxed and when it gets to your table. 

E coli, Hep A, listeria, salmonella...so many good reasons to wash produce! Right after dd17 was born there was a spate of illness from melons, probably due to e coli though I can't remember exactly, and our pediatrician told us to wash melon rinds before cutting into them. I still do that.

Sorry, I know you didn't want to hear from people like me 🙂

 

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Yeah, given how many veggies I eat every day it’s pretty terrifying!  I’m a terrible washer and have never gotten sick, but I also don’t want to tempt fate 😤

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15 minutes ago, Acadie said:

FWIW, I do wash boxed, pre-washed greens, because bacteria multiply between the time when it's boxed and when it gets to your table. 

E coli, Hep A, listeria, salmonella...so many good reasons to wash produce! Right after dd17 was born there was a spate of illness from melons, probably due to e coli though I can't remember exactly, and our pediatrician told us to wash melon rinds before cutting into them. I still do that.

Sorry, I know you didn't want to hear from people like me 🙂

 

We take all sorts of precautions that most people don't need to take, but our medical team is really clear that fruit you're going to peel needs to be washed as well as fruit you aren't going to peel, because the knife will just transfer what is outside to the inside.  So, we wash melons, and mangos, and bananas and oranges.  

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2 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

Yeah, given how many veggies I eat every day it’s pretty terrifying!  I’m a terrible washer and have never gotten sick, but I also don’t want to tempt fate 😤

AM, I don't want to alarm you or make it seem like every produce must be washed until it squeaks. My cleaning practices were taught and are very much based on third world country sanitation requirements and cultural practices. For instance, I have been taught to clean the meat until the water ran clear because we buy meat or fish that is freshly killed and there is always blood that must be rinsed off from where I come from. Then we clean it once more using turmeric powder. Now don't ask me why, put it down to grandmother teaching.

 I have found that to be the case less so in America. So too produce that has less grit. I have continued those practices because I always come from the background of produce or meat must be cleaned by me before I can trust it. It is the same way I always boil water before I cook. I don't use water from the tap for cooking. It is inherent to the way I was first taught to cook. In my experience, the more processed the meat or produce is, the cleaner it is. But I always give everything a dip just to be on the safer side for I always hear my grandmother's voice in my head. 😊

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We tumeric is very antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial.  That’s not the worst practice ever, especially in a country with iffy sanitation in some regions 🙂

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Just now, Arctic Mama said:

We tumeric is very antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial.  That’s not the worst practice ever, especially in a country with iffy sanitation in some regions 🙂

Exactly. But we rarely have freezer full of meat or fish like it is the practice here and it is cooked at once, meat is well done always, more on the cardboard side sometimes. So everything dies anyway. But food borne illness is one of the reasons people do that. Iffy sanitation and the way food itself is bought. When you buy your vegetables from a lady who comes home with a basket on her head straight from the big market with vegetables brought in fresh each day , you choose a chicken and have it butchered in front of you , have butchering skills it totally changes how many times produce or meat must be cleaned. We used to buy our meat from what is essentially a wet market, so we cleaned everything "until the water ran clear". Also these practices were in places where water was not often from a tap as in running water. So cleaning practices vary according to region I will say.

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I purposefully don't wash what I grow unless I see dirt or icky stuff- no fertilizer or anything- because I want to expose myself to the natural bacteria, but not washing store bought produce is just nasty. 

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12 minutes ago, Paige said:

I purposefully don't wash what I grow unless I see dirt or icky stuff- no fertilizer or anything- because I want to expose myself to the natural bacteria, but not washing store bought produce is just nasty. 

This is me, too. Well, I wash stuff from stores, even organic, because it's been handled by a bunch of people. But stuff from my own garden, I only wash if there's actual dirt (like carrots). Above ground stuff, like parsley, greens, etc., I want to get some natural bacteria. Maybe this unwise, but it's worked so far!

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