PHOTO of sewage contamination leaking to a yard surface from a broken sewer pipe Produce Disinfecting Vegetable Wash
Which home methods for washing vegetables provide effective disinfections?

  • VEGETABLE DISINFECTION - CONTENTS: what produce disinfection methods are suitable for home use? Warnings about the limitations of some DIY at home vegetable washes & produce disinfection. Surprise: distilled water performs as well as or even better than some store-bought produce disinfectant washes. How to use bleach to purify drinking water. Five years of testing & how to use SinBac™ or other vegetable disinfectants to prepare fruits, vegetables, or other foods for eating.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the limitations of reliance only on disinfection to make drinking water potable or safe.
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Disinfect vegetables, fruits, salads & other produce in the home: this article describes the use of several approaches to washing & disinfecting produce: salad & vegetable products for home consumption. We include research pointing out which vegetable wash disinfection methods work and might be used successfully in the home and which others must be used with caution, or perhaps not at all.

Interestingly we report that where fruit or vegetable disinfection washes are needed, using distilled water can perform as well as or even better than some store-bought vegetable washes!

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A Guide to Safe vs Questionable Vegetable Disinfection Washes & Treatments

Vegetable wash with forced immersion (C) Daniel FriedmanVegetable disinfecting wash chemicals sold at many produce stores or grocery stores (Sin Bac™, for example, is a product we use in Mexico) often contain a disinfectant that can be used for producing a produce disinfecting wash and that can also be used at a different concentration to disinfect water for drinking.

We describe how to use SinBac or similar products in detail below.

Watch out: If you have one of these products, read the label for the required amount of chemical to add and the wait time to use before consuming the water.

The Best Way to Wash Raw Fruits & Vegetables

The best ways to keep raw vegetables fruits safe have been outlined by a number of sources (REFERENCES) including both independent organizations (e.g. University of Maine) as well as companies selling vegetable wash products.

The following is adapted & expanded from Bolton (ret. 2014) et als, there are a few basic veggie or fruit washing steps that are key:

  • Wash your own hands before preparing food and similarly, keep food work surfaces clean: cutting boards, countertops, etc. It makes no sense to disinfect your lettuce then cut it atop an infected or bacteria-contaminated cutting board.
  • Using pre-washed produce: It is not necessary to wash or re-wash or disinfect produce labeled as "ready to eat" or "washed" or "triple-washed" unless you have placed the produce on an unsanitary surface.
  • Use cold sanitary tap water water to wash produce where tap water is sanitary.
    Technical note: research (REFERENCES) has shown that physically washing fruits and vegetables with clean sanitary water is nearly (95%) as effective as disinfectant washes or soaks.

Vegetable wash with forced immersion (C) Daniel Friedman

  • Use a disinfecting wash? In other communities where the sanitation of tap water is uncertain or known to be unreliable and thus where disinfection is appropriate ,use one of the types of disinfection products listed below, or consider using distilled water as we discuss below.

    Notice the plate in our vegetable wash photo? We make sure that leafy or irregular vegetables or produce such as broccoli remain submerged during the disinfection wash time specified by the product's manufacturer, in this case 5 minutes.
  • Soak irregular-surfaced or rough-surfaced produce (broccoli cauliflower and in our opinion lettuce). Bolton et als suggest two minutes of soaking in cold clean water, but depending on where you live and where the produce originated, disinfection may be absolutely necessary.

    Watch out: some of the vegetable wash disinfection products for sale are ineffective while virtually all of them require attention to the disinfectant concentration and contact time to be effective at all.
  • Wash lettuce, leafy spinach and similar produce using an appropriate disinfectant (attending concentration & contact time according to the product's instructions) and drain these on a clean dish drainer rack in a clean colander. Remember to wash your salad spinner in soapy water after its use.

    We store leafy produce that's not to be used immediately back in the refrigerator. You can preserve the product's crispness by placing a dry paper towel or two in the bottom of the storage bag.
Let washed produce dry in air (C) Daniel Friedman
  • Use a vegetable brush to scrub thick-skinned produce. Physically cleaning off dirt and debris is as important or more important than chemical disinfection for soiled, dusty, dirty produce.
  • Let the produce dry on its own on a clean surface, clean paper towels or a clean dish rack. Don't wipe off the disinfectant.

    Bolton et als recommend drying the produce with a paper towel to remove more bacteria, but some vegetable wash disinfectant manufacturers advise air drying which gives increased contact time with the disinfectant.

    In our photo (left) we're letting those washed, disinfected tomatos air-dry on a clean metal dish drainer rack.
  • Once produce has been disinfected, do not wash it again in tap water. Doing-so removes the disinfectant and in communities where tap water itself may not be sanitary you risk re-infecting the produce.
  • Keep washed produce refrigerated at 40F or lower.
  • Bolton et als recommend that you do not purchase cut produce that has not been kept refrigerated.

- Bolton, Jason, Bushway, Alfred, Crowe, Kristi, El-Begearmi, Mahmoud, "Best Ways to Wash Fruits and Vegetables", Bulletin $4336, University of Maine, retrieved 4/1/14, original source:

Watch out: for these limitations on the effectiveness of bleach or chlorine disinfection of drinking water or grey water:

Alternatives to Use of Chlorine for Wash-Disinfecting Produce

Using distilled water as a vegetable wash

Sears water distiller (C) Daniel FriedmanVeggie washes: Bolton et als reported that some vegetable wash products such as Proctor & Gamble's Fit® reduced the level of residual pesticides and bacteria at the same level as using distilled water.

Ozone water purifier systems such as Air Zone's Ozone Water Purifier XT-301 and Indoor Purification Systems' J0-4 Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer removed microbes from the test produce but distilled water was found to be more effective than either of the ozone washes.

Distilled or clean water wash for produce: We have been using the Sears water distiller shown at left to produce distilled water for home use for over twenty years. The product is elegantly simple to operate and produces distilled water suitable for washing vegetables and fruits.

Why does distilled water work well as a produce wash? For two reasons at least:

  1. Besides not contributing any contaminants itself, distilled water is a very good solvent.
  2. Important, and on some produce even the dominant contaminants are in dust and soils that are removed by physical washing of the produce.

Advice for using SinBac or similar iodine-based vegetable disinfectant washes

SinBac vegetable wash disinfectant (C) Daniel FriedmanWith many years of experience washing locally-grown produce in Mexico we report that failure to wash and disinfect these products can be risky. Typically the products that we have used for at home produce disinfection in Mexico contain iodine.

Sin-Bac's disinfectant is (Cloro Dimetil Hidantonia or 1-Bromo-3-chloro-5,5-dimethyl-Hydantoin is a mixture of chlorine and bromine to form a useful antiseptic agent having bacteriostatic and bacteriacidal capabilities that have antibacterial, anti fungal, antiprotozoal, and anthelmintic activity) that can be used to disinfect water for drinking.

The Sin-Bac disinfectant concentration requires 4 caps per liter of water for a produce disinfecting wash.

Notice that next to our bottle of Sin-Bac we have a timer set to 5 minutes - the immersion time required for this product. In five years of vegetable wash using this product in central Mexico we have not had a bad result.

Sin-Bac is produced in Mexico by GV Products, Parque Chapultepec No. 61, Col Lomas Del Parque,

  • First wash: when disinfecting produce that has visible debris or soil particles we either use tap water or the disinfectant solution from washing cleaner produce items as a first rinse. We've already mentioned the importance of getting mud, dirt, dust off of your produce.

    Getting rid of the crud makes the disinfection wash that comes next more effective, safer, more pleasant, and it conserves our disinfecting solution.

    You don't need to do a "first wash" if the produce looks clean to the eye.
  • When disinfecting leafy vegetables that may also be dirty with soil or sand, we rinse them off thoroughly with tap water, or we repeat the disinfection process twice.

BacDyn vegetable disinfectant wash (C) Daniel FriedmanAt left is another disinfectant produce wash product, BacDyn Plus ( Unlike the disinfetant-based SinBac, BacDyn Plus uses 0.08% colloidal silver. The manufacturer recommends a 10-minute immersion for produce disinfection. We don't use this product, preferring the Sin-Bac described above.

The BacDyn concentration instructions are on the package, typically 1/2 capful per liter for a disinfectant wash.

  • When disinfecting lettuce we cut the head of lettuce into halves or quarters and immerse the lettuce by placing a dish on top of the vegetables in the soak-bowl during the disinfection period. Lettuce can then simply be drained in a dish drainer before it is stored.
  • Don't reduce the disinfection time or solution concentration below that recommended by the manufacturer or you may not be adequately disinfecting your vegetables.
  • After vegetables or fruits are disinfected by your solution, do not rinse them off with tap water. Simply let them dry. Rinsing risks re-infecting the food.
  • Be sure that the cutting board you use to prepare vegetables or any other food has been thoroughly washed, and in particular, be sure it and your knives are thoroughly cleaned after cutting meat or poultry, before using the same board and knives again to cut and prepare your disinfected vegetables.
  • 1-Bromo-3-chloro-5,5-dimethylhydantoin (C5H6BrClN2O2) is produced world-wide and is also used in cleaners and bathroom disinfectants and deodorizers.

    Here is an example MSDS for this product, provided by Leisure Time. We like the Sin Bac™ product in part because the soak time for vegetables (one cap of disinfectant per liter of water) is just five minutes. Some other vegetable disinfectant solutions require 10 or even 15 minutes of soaking.

Using Hydrogen Peroxide as a Vegetable Wash

Some websites describe use of 35% food grade H2O2 but without citing authoritative sources. "Vegetable Soak: (CLOROX substitute): Add 1/4 cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide into a gallon of Cold Water. Soak light Vegetables (Lettuce, etc.) 20 minutes, thicker skinned Vegetables (like Cucumbers) for 30 minutes.

Drain and dry, (they keep LONGER too). If time is a Problem, you can spray the Vegetables with straight 3% Hydrogen Peroxide, let stand for a couple of minutes, rinse and dry." But is this treatment effective for just for Ecoli or also for Giardia?

Katadyne Micropur chlorine dioxide kit Watch out: Cryptosporidium cysts might survive a typical chlorine disinfection process (such as at a municipal water treatment plant) and these or other cyst-like pathogens are likely to survive casual vegetable washing.

[Click to enlarge any image]

For this reason some municipalities where Cryptosporidium cysts are a concern add a water treatment step using chlorine dioxide.

Others may use a combination of UV light and chlorine in the water treatment procedure. This treatment is also available to hikers, travelers, and for emergency water supply use.

Using Vinegar as a Vegetable Wash

Vinegar disinfectant wash for vegetables or fruit (C) Daniel FriedmanVinegar produce washing be effective as a limited-scope disinfectant wash for vegetables as well.


  • Sadjjadi, Seyed Mahmoud, Jamshid Rostami, and Mohammad Azadbakht. "Giardiacidal activity of lemon juice, vinifer and vinegar on Giardia intestinalis cysts." (2006).

Abstract The giardiacidal efficacy of simple disinfecting materials, ie lemon juice, vinifer, and vinegar, for uncooked foods with Giardia cysts was investigated to help travelers in Giardia-endemic areas.

The cysts were obtained from stools of individuals with Giardia intestinalis infection by modified sucrose gradient procedure.

A pooled batch of 3 x 10(4)/ml Giardia cysts was made from all specimens. The cysts were kept at 4 degrees C until use. Before each experiment, the number of cysts was determined by hemocytometer. Two sets of Eppendorf tubes were used for the experiments, one set at 4 degrees C and one at 24 degrees C.

One thousand microliters each of lemon juice, vinifer, or vinegar was poured into each tube, and 1,000 microl of Giardia cysts were added. Variables were disinfectant materials, temperature, and time of exposure. Cyst viability 140 was determined by eosin inclusion procedure.

Viability of at least 250 cysts in each tube at 0, 0.5, 1, 2 and 3 hours after the beginning of the experiments was determined. The mean giardiacidal activity at 4 degrees C after 3 hours for lemon juice, viniger, and vinegar was 18.9, 12.8, and 28.4%, and at 24 degrees C, 28.3, 16.2, and 40.6%, respectively.

In conclusion, the giardiacidal activity of vinegar was more than the other materials, and as exposure time and temperature increased, giardiacidal activity also increased; the highest giardiacidal activity of vinegar was at 3-hours exposure at 24 degrees C.

A second useful citation on the effectiveness of vinegar as a disinfectant that can treat giardia is below. Notice that the temperature of the process is important.

  • Costa, Adriana Oliveira, Vanete Thomaz-Soccol, Rosangela Clara Paulino, and Edilene Alcântara de Castro. "Effect of vinegar on the viability of< i> Giardia duodenalis cysts." International journal of food microbiology 128, no. 3 (2009): 510-512.

Abstract The inactivation of Giardia duodenalis cysts by vinegar was investigated. Experiments were carried out in 100 ml volume of vinegar (acetic acid 4%), undiluted or diluted in distilled water in ratios of 1:1, 1:15.6, and 1:62.5 (vol/vol), which were inoculated with 5 × 105 cysts obtained from human feces. Experiments were performed at room temperature (21 ± 1 °C) and at 4 °C.

After contact times of 1.5 min, 10, 30, and 60 min, the cysts were recovered from the treatment fluid and subjected to an in vitro excystation assay to determine their viability. The relative viability, which was calculated in relation to controls (maximum excystation percentage), was significantly affected (p < 0.1) by the vinegar concentration, contact time, and temperature.

At 21 ± 1 °C, no cysts remained viable after being treated with undiluted vinegar for 60 min, while the treatment with 1:1, 1:15.6, and 1:62.5 vinegar–water mixtures decreased the relative viability to 1.8%, 19.4%, and 56.4%, respectively. The relative viability after corresponding treatments at 4 °C also decreased, but 23.6% to 48.8% remained viable after 60 min, and thus complete inactivation was not obtained with any treatment at that temperature.

Other Produce Washes & Disinfectants: alternaties to chlorine

Li (2008) and Ölmez (2009) and certainly other researchers have proposed some alternatives to use of chlorine for disinfecting produce:

The challenge to achieve appropriate disinfection without forming harmful disinfection byproducts by conventional chemical disinfectants, as well as the growing demand for decentralized or point-of-use water treatment and recycling systems calls for new technologies for efficient disinfection and microbial control.

Several natural and engineered nanomaterials have demonstrated strong antimicrobial properties through diverse mechanisms including photocatalytic production of reactive oxygen species that damage cell components and viruses (e.g. TiO2, ZnO and fullerol), compromising the bacterial cell envelope (e.g. peptides, chitosan, carboxyfullerene, carbon nanotubes, ZnO and silver nanoparticles (nAg)), interruption of energy transduction (e.g. nAg and aqueous fullerene nanoparticles (nC60)), and inhibition of enzyme activity and DNA synthesis (e.g. chitosan).

Although some nanomaterials have been used as antimicrobial agents in consumer products including home purification systems as antimicrobial agents, their potential for disinfection or microbial control in system level water treatment has not been carefully evaluated.

This paper reviews the antimicrobial mechanisms of several nanoparticles, discusses their merits, limitations and applicability for water disinfection and biofouling control, and highlights research needs to utilize novel nanomaterials for water treatment applications. - Li (2008)

Ölmez proposes Chlorine dioxide, ozone, organic acids, peroxyacetic acid, electrolyzed oxidizing water and hydrogen peroxide for produce disinfection:

Disinfection is one of the most important processing steps affecting the quality and safety and the shelf-life of the end product in fresh-cut processing. Chlorine is the most widely used disinfectant in fresh-cut industry. However, recent outbreaks associated with pathogen contamination in fresh-cut vegetables raised the concerns about the efficacy of chlorine treatment in assuring the safety of the products.

Moreover, due to the environmental and health risks posed by the use of chlorine, there is a trend in eliminating chlorine from the disinfection process.

Thus, there is a need for alternative sanitizers to be used for the disinfection of fresh-cut vegetables, not only for the organic food sector but also for the conventional food processors. Another challenge for the food industry is the minimization of water consumption and wastewater discharge rates.

The United Nations Environment Programme stated that Europe is one of the two global regions where more water is used for industry than for agriculture. Among the different industries, the food industry ranks third in water consumption and wastewater discharge rates coming after the chemical and refinery industries.

The adoption of less water consuming systems is required for improved water management in the industry. Therefore the food industry is now seeking alternatives to chlorine which assure the safety of the products, maintain the quality and shelf-life, while also reducing the water consumption rates in processing.

Chlorine dioxide, ozone, organic acids, peroxyacetic acid, electrolyzed oxidizing water and hydrogen peroxide are the main alternative sanitizing agents that gained interest in recent years. The effects of these disinfecting agents on the microbiological, nutritional and sensory quality of fresh-cut produce, and also the possible environmental impact and the potential on minimizing water consumption rates in the food industry are reviewed in this manuscript. - Ölmez (2009)


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