So you’ve been feeling guilty, finally went to the store and bought some produce. Good on ya. Maybe you saw someone’s instagram post of their brunch overflowing with berries, or read up on the benefits of kale and swiss chard and caved. Either way, you’re sitting there scratching your head about how to eat all this fresh food before it’s too late. Well, hopefully you heed my advice in this listicle and always, always take a second to wash your fruit and veg before you eat it. Based on my own experiences working in a food warehouse, here are ten key reasons the very least you could do is run your fruit and veg under some cold water first before diving in. Seriously, it’s the bare minimum.
1. We don’t wash our hands.
This one is workplace specific. If a warehouse values quality control, they’ll pay their workers the time it takes to wash their hands before the start of their shift and after eating breaks. Some places do require hand washing, even changing hairnets and gloves each time you leave the work station. But mine doesn’t, and with exception of a couple of “employees must wash their hands before returning to work” signs, it’s not enforced. Hopefully workers are also wearing gloves, but skip to #6 if you’re leaning in to this one.
On a greater scale, the picker who took that fruit off the tree likely wasn’t near a washroom the whole day. Just think about that for a sec. I’ll leave the rest to you.
2. Your perfect pear was beside a rotten one.
When your perfect pear gets picked off the tree, it’s immediately out into a bag and then a larger crate with all the other pears. That means all pears, small, large, bug bitten, and rotting are all up in each other for long periods of time. For those that remember biology, fruits give off gases that help ripen the bunch. This is helpful for the ecosystem in your fruit bowl, but in reality, I see so many rotten and maggotty pears they’re no longer fruit. So your perfect pear is probably covered in rotten pear bacteria. It’s mouldy blue and gross.
3. It was frozen.
All fruit that’s not in season but somehow still sitting in your local grocery store was frozen. Sorry for the surprise! Yeah, it might not look or feel like it, but the majority of the pears I’m now working on are straight out of the freezer. Sometimes fruit is frozen again after for easier transport. But anyway, the fruit is coated in a special coloured preservative before being locked away for months before being sorted for an order. And yes, it can affect taste and texture. Mmmmmm.
4. We use pesticides on everything.
Part of the packing process is giving all fruit a chlorine-pesticide rinse before they go out for shipping. This helps prevent fruit fly infestations and wipes away low level surface dirt. Fruit also needs to be washed at certain pH markers for it to be considered safe for consumption, and adding acids help with that.
5. Food contamination
Part of the “washing hands” food safety thing is reducing chances for food contamination, among other things. So if I have peanut butter or eat something with lactose in it for lunch and properly wash my hands, I’m not triggering an allergic reaction for someone around the world, or introducing new bacteria into another ecosystem far far away. Environmental contamination prevention is why we have to careful about taking leaves off on some orders. But again, it’s not always enforced. Food contamination is the same reason why we can’t wear strong perfumes and deodorants to work. Do people do it anyway? Of course they do.
6. We sometimes don’t get gloves anyway.
I got a pair of latex-free gloves my first day, threw them out at 5pm thinking we’d get new ones for the next shift. I was never given a new pair. I’ve bought my own gloves since then, but most people are wearing the same disposable gloves every day. Enough said on that.
7. Spiders and creepy crawlies
For the arachnophobes and bug haters, you can’t control what may have crawled on your fruit prior to it being picked. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, but if the thought gives you chills, just wash your fruit.
8. Fruit & veg aren’t that clean to begin with.
Gotta love fruit, it’s a product of the earth and the tree that bore it. It was exposed to rain and wind and good dirt. Sometimes the fruit comes down the conveyor belt still smelling like manure and compost. Can’t complain too much on this one – it’s the most obvious non-industrial reason to always wash your fruit and veg. Good dirt begone!
9. Machine’s not that clean either.
The machines that handle your fruit and veg aren’t scrubbed down to their core at the end of the work day. My workplace gets pretty close and personal with the cleaning but there’s no way every part of the machine is entirely hygienic.
Also remember #4 about how we use pesticides to control pH? Yeah, the tank where pH is tested and where all the pears are dumped in before being packed is only emptied once a day. So the pears at the end of the day are in the dirty bathtub water of aaaaallllll the other pears. Yummy right?
10. Fruit is handled by a lot of people.
A lot of people are behind the fruit and veg you see at the grocery store. Everything you see has been vetted, selected and ordered for that store and price point. So while not every fruit you see in the store is ‘perfect’ there are lots more that never make it to the shelves for cosmetic reasons.
Some of the people that definitely have touched your fruit and veg before you are the fruit pickers, two tiers of packers, quality controllers, and the people who actually pack the shelves. That doesn’t take into account the entire chain of production, but at minimum three or four people have touched each item before you did. So wash your fruit and veg folks.