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How to Sanitize Fresh Produce: Kill those Corvid Germs!


So there you are in the grocery store, one of the few moments when desperation drives you to enter a public place, and you buy a bunch of lettuce and apples and oranges and melons and whatnot… Things that you would normally eat without cooking them. But what if another shopper or three has breathed on the stuff? God help us, what if someone has even coughed on it?

Well, you know, in a time when a contagion spread by contact with surfaces holds forth, that is a real concern.

When I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, back in the Dark Ages, I learned a method for sanitizing fruit and salad produce, a technique that was taught to all the women in camp.

All produce sold through the camp commissary was farmed in the Middle East. At the time, fields there were fertilized with human waste, and so any scrap of fresh lettuce, veggies, or fruit was likely contaminated with amoebic dysentery organisms. The way to sanitize this produce was as follows:

Rinse your produce first and set it aside. Fill a large pot or the kitchen sink with dilute Clorox — about a tablespoon of chlorine bleach per gallon to a sink full or kettle full of cold water. (My mother used more Clorox than that, she being she.) The water should have a slight chlorine odor. Do not used fancified variants of Clorox: no scented version, no Splashless, no High Efficiency, no other b.s. You want just plain old-fashioned Clorox. Submerge the produce in the chlorinated water and let it set for 20 minutes to an hour. Drain the sink, refill, and slosh all the produce around in clean water; drain again and then refill and rinse again. Finally  rinse each item well under running water before letting it drain dry and putting it away in the refrigerator.

This method does not work safely on items that are porous, such as strawberries. Consequently we couldn’t buy things like strawberries and raspberries in the commissary. Also, leafy greens, such as lettuce, will wilt quickly after being treated with Clorox, so you need to eat them within a few hours after sanitizing them.

An alternative to Clorox is iodine water sanitizing pills for campers. You can use common household iodine for this purpose, too: about 5 drops per quart. If you’re using the tablets, which you can get at sporting goods store & probably at Amazon, as I recall it’s 2 tablets per quart. It takes about 30 minutes to disinfect.

Better yet: cook everything before you eat it. 😉