Can you eat strawberries without washing them?
In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Can you eat strawberries without washing them?” and discuss the risks associated with eating unwashed strawberries.
Can you eat strawberries without washing them?
Yes, you can, but it is not recommended to eat strawberries without washing them. Eating unwashed strawberries poses a risk of ingesting pathogenic bacteria that comes from the soil or pesticides applied to strawberries during cultivation. You might even end up eating bugs harvested along with the strawberries (1).
Washing fresh strawberries with tap water helps to remove any dirt and harmful bacteria that may be present on the strawberries.
What are the risks of eating unwashed strawberries?
If you consume unwashed strawberries, the chances for food poisoning as fresh strawberries grow in the soil and water, they will naturally be exposed to microorganisms. Some harmful bacteria on fresh strawberries include Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Shigella.
Among them, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella are the most common bacteria associated with foodborne diseases. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In severe cases, food poisoning may result in kidney failure, meningitis, and even death (3).
Tekemen D. et al reported that two leptospirosis outbreaks occurred among strawberry harvesters in Germany due to Leptospira bacteria, and eating unwashed strawberries was identified as one of the risk factors associated with Leptospira infection (2).
Individuals who are immunocompromised or have immature immune systems, as well as children younger than five years old and pregnant women, are most at risk of developing foodborne illness from eating unwashed strawberries.
How to properly wash strawberries?
Properly washing fresh strawberries can reduce the risks of harmful bacteria and pesticides. For washing fresh strawberries at home, you can follow any of the methods described below (4-8):
With tap water
- Place the strawberries you intend to eat in a strainer and gently clean them under cold, running water. This can be done for around 10 to 20 secs; just make sure each strawberry has been properly cleaned.
- There is no need to use soap or detergent to wash strawberries.
- Pat them dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. This will help eliminate any remaining bacteria.
- Remove any damaged or bruised areas on fresh strawberries before eating.
- Clean your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling fresh strawberries.
You can also perfectly clean strawberries with vinegar. For this purpose,
- Fill a container with one cup of white vinegar and eight cups of water.
- Allow the strawberries to sit in the vinegar-water bath for at least 5 minutes.
- Drain the water and then pat them dry using a towel.
In addition to getting rid of pesticides, white vinegar can also help remove any excess grime, dirt, or bacteria that may be present on the surface of strawberries.
To clean strawberries with a salt bath:
- Make a mixture of equal parts of salt and water, i.e., for each cup of warm water in a bowl, add one tsp of salt.
- Allow the mixture to cool before adding in the strawberries.
- Then add in the strawberries and soak them for almost 5 minutes.
- Wash the strawberries with cold, tap water, then pat them dry with a towel.
With white vinegar, cold water, and salt
You can also wash your strawberries in a solution with 1 part white vinegar, four parts cold water, and at least 10 percent salt in a container.
This method works effectively by expelling the offspring of bugs often laid inside and on the surface of produce. These offsprings are of the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), a type of fruit fly that lays its eggs inside fresh fruits before they are harvested, unlike most other fruit flies that only lay their eggs in fully ripened fruits.
Allow the strawberries to sit in the mixture for about 5 minutes, and you will start to notice little worms coming out of the strawberries.
With Baking Soda (Sodium bicarbonate)
If you have baking soda on-hand in your pantry, this is an effective ingredient to clean your strawberries. Simply mix with water to remove pesticides, dirt, and insects. Following are the steps to clean strawberries with baking soda.
- Mix one teaspoon of baking soda with four cups of water and stir until dissolved
- Add the strawberries to the mixture and toss them with clean hands
- Let the strawberries soak in the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes
- Rinse the berries clean, and then they’re ready to eat
With Hydrogen peroxide solution
The hydrogen peroxide solution helps kill any bacteria or mold that may be present on the strawberries. Here are the steps to wash strawberries with a hydrogen peroxide solution:
- Mix 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide with 3 cups of cold water in a bowl.
- Place the strawberries in a colander and rinse them with cold water to remove any dirt or debris.
- Dip the strawberries in the hydrogen peroxide solution for 5-10 minutes.
- Rinse the strawberries again with cold water to remove the hydrogen peroxide solution.
- Gently pat the strawberries dry with paper towels and enjoy.
Can you rinse strawberries in advance?
No, it is not recommended to wash strawberries in advance. Strawberries should only be rinsed if you intend to eat them right after(6).
Washing them in advance will cause them to go bad faster due to the added moisture, which allows the mold to grow faster. The quicker the mold grows, the faster the strawberries will get spoiled. Therefore, wash your strawberries a few mins before you eat them.
Can strawberries be cleaned with dish soap or detergent?
No, it is not recommended by the FDA and CDC to wash strawberries with soap or detergent, as these products can leave residues behind. While they may eliminate any pesticide deposits, you will also probably be getting some of the residual soap or detergent itself, which you certainly don’t want (7).
In this brief guide, we have answered the query, “Can you eat strawberries without washing them?” and discussed the risks associated with eating unwashed strawberries, as well as the different ways to properly wash your strawberries.
- Wei X, Hou S, Pan X, Xu C, Li J, Yu H. Microbiological contamination of strawberries from U-pick farms in Guangzhou, China. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(24).
- Tekemen D, Franz M, Bier NS, Richter M, Nockler K, Luge E. Survival time of Leptospira Kirschner on strawberries. PLoS One. 2020;15(8 August).
- Guo M, Jin TZ, Gurtler JB, Fan X, Yadav MP. Inactivation of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and salmonella and native microbiota on fresh strawberries by antimicrobial washing and coating. J Food Prot. 2018;81(8).
- Nicolau-Lapeña I, Abadias M, Bobo G, Aguiló-Aguayo I, Lafarga T, Viñas I. Strawberry sanitization by peracetic acid washing and its effect on fruit quality. Food Microbiol. 2019;83.
- Shahi N, Min B, Bonsi EA. Microbial Decontamination of Fresh Produce (Strawberry) Using Washing Solutions. J Food Res. 2015;4(3).
- Lozowicka B, Jankowska M, Hrynko I, Kaczynski P. Removal of 16 pesticide residues from strawberries by washing with tap and ozone water, ultrasonic cleaning, and boiling. Environ Monit Assess. 2016;188(1).
- CDC: Fruits and vegetable safetyhttps://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/steps-healthy-fruits-veggies.html
- Hydrogen peroxide: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hydrogen-peroxide/