A woman washes leafy greens at her kitchen sink.
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Washing fruits and vegetables before you cook or eat them is an important food safety move. Produce often has dirt on it, may contain pesticide residues, and can sometimes be contaminated with bacteria, like salmonella, that could make you sick. You can’t wash away all the bacteria or pesticides, but you can remove a significant amount.

Pesticides in particular are tricky. The chemicals can stick to soft skins, wax coatings can trap certain pesticides, and some are systemic, meaning they get into the flesh of fruits or vegetables. In fact, the Department of Agriculture pesticide testing, which Consumer Reports used to develop our ratings of fruits and vegetables based on pesticide risks, occurs after produce is washed, and if appropriate, peeled. Yet some still have pesticide residue.

To remove as much pesticide residue and bacteria as you can, follow the method used by the USDA.

More on pesticides and produce

Wash all produce—even those that will be peeled—in cold running water for 15 to 20 seconds. Do it before you cut into the fruit or vegetable so you don't transfer any bacteria or pesticides from the surface to the flesh. For hard produce with tough skins, like apples and potatoes, use a vegetable brush or rub with your hands. You can time yourself by singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice or any 20-second refrain of a favorite song.

That’s it. There’s no evidence that special washes remove more pesticides.

And you should certainly avoid soap and especially bleach. Fruits and vegetables are porous, so cleaning products may seep into the flesh, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Even after rinsing, residues left on food may make you sick.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the October 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine and was updated in August 2022. It was originally published August 27, 2020.