Which foods do you need to wash prior to cooking?

Most food safety guides tell you to rinse fruits and vegetables before preparing them. Some sources will even tell you to rinse meat before cooking. Is this good advice? NPR's The Salt weighs in on which food items you should rinse - and which you should leave alone. 

washing mushrooms

A recent US outbreak of E. coli infections caused by tainted romaine lettuce reignited interest in whether rinsing produce will help you avoid foodborne illness. The short answer is that it can help, but that comes with a caveat. If you do not cook the foods that you rinse, you are still at risk, because washing fruits and vegetables can only go so far in removing the microorganisms. Since cooking many items like lettuce and fruits drastically changes their flavor and texture, most people will take the chance in order to eat those foods in their fresh state. 

As for rinsing meat, experts say that is not a good practice. You risk spreading harmful bacteria by splashing them around on sinks and countertops. To be safe, you need to cook all meat and eggs to a safe temperature. Plenty of people will take the small risk that comes with their over-easy eggs, although if you are concerned about undercooked eggs you should be able to find pasteurized eggs in most larger grocery stores. 

Other items that you should rinse include beans, rice, and grains. The article provides helpful reminders on how to best wash different types of produce to remove the most harmful bacteria, and also tips on how to properly clean the surfaces in your kitchen such as countertops, cutting boards, and utensils. 

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