With slightly better spring weather in sight, the appetite for fruit and fresh salads is increasing. At the same time, discussions erupt over whether you should wash fruits and vegetables before eating them raw. And: can this bag of pre-cut lettuce be placed directly on your plate?
“In fact, there are two reasons why we should wash fruits and vegetables before eating them raw,” says Professor Frank Devlieghere of the Department of Food Safety and Food Quality (UGent). “The first is that it removes all pesticides. Nowadays, there is already little left on fruits and vegetables, as producers are subject to strict regulations. The pesticides they use must be broken down by the time the products reach the consumer. The concentration of pesticides will therefore already be very low. And you can reduce it again by washing. ”
Don’t they disappear completely with water? “Water soluble pesticides are, but those that are fat soluble and have a wax coating, you only get partially rinsed off. You never remove everything with water alone, not even microorganisms, for example. ”
Which brings us to the second reason to wash fruits and vegetables, especially if they come from a vegetable garden. “You don’t want to ingest dust, soil, insects and dirt, it’s not just grinding your teeth,” explains professor and food safety expert Bruno De Meulenaer (UGent). “It’s not very hygienic if you don’t wash it.”
“It’s different for lettuce from the supermarket,” says Devlieghere. “When growing and harvesting in an industrial environment, conditions are much more controlled than in a vegetable garden. For example, the animals are less likely to come close together. Yet there is also a low risk of contamination there. Soil and mud can contain microorganisms that make you sick, especially bacteria. Pigeon droppings can contaminate vegetables with salmonella, while cat droppings can transmit the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis: if a pregnant woman is infected without antibodies, it can have catastrophic consequences for the fetus. Such germs are deposited against these fruits and vegetables, so you cannot eliminate them with water alone.
How then? “There isn’t really a conclusive method. And certainly not without damaging the product. Either way: the chance that you would contract something like this remains low. And peeling the fruit also has drawbacks, especially from a nutritional point of view. “Pregnant women lacking antibodies against toxoplasmosis therefore have an interest in not eating raw vegetables,” adds De Meulenaer.
And what about pre-cut lettuce bags, do they have to be washed? Devlieghere: “It’s actually not necessary, as it has happened in the company before: everything that was removable has already been deleted.”