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I live in a subtropical climate where most people cook vegetables, rather than eat them raw, so when making green salads, I must be careful to ensure that everything is clean. I have seen recommendations in How to wash lettuce to wash lettuce under running water or in a salad spinner, but I do not have access to either. I have tried adding bottled water to a bowl, then putting the lettuce, onions, and tomatoes in this bowl to soak, but do I not know if this will clean the vegetables sufficiently, especially as the onions and tomatoes seem to already contains some water trapped inside, which is likely not safe to consume. How can I clean these vegetables?

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Wow, just curious. Where do you live that you've got access to a computer and internet but not to running water? –  Mien Jun 12 '12 at 9:12
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I should have been more specific. I have running water, but it is not safe to drink and is not always even clear. I do not know if it is a good idea to clean vegetables with it. –  Village Jun 12 '12 at 9:22
    
Fascinating question :) –  dunc Jun 12 '12 at 10:45
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Interesting. When I was in Indonesia, I was told to make sure that the restaurants I ate at all had the sign that said "We wash our food in boiled water." I didn't get sick, so it is possible. –  Chris Cudmore Jun 12 '12 at 12:45
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Village, you'll probably want to buy a good household water filter & disinfectant. I did the bottled-water thing in a similar situation, but if you're spending a long time there, it's better to be able to just filter and disinfect your water. Makes cooking a heck of a lot easier, and you don't have to worry about weird off flavors. –  BobMcGee Jun 12 '12 at 15:25
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4 Answers 4

Let's call a spade a spade: if you're in one of many areas where people don't eat vegetables raw, it's because nightsoil or unsterilized animal manure is used to fertilize the fields. A quick rinse won't render these vegetables safe to eat, because you need to kill the pathogens.

To start out, you should wash all dirt and sand off produce; for this wash it is okay to use tap water as long as it is well-filtered, because you will be following it with a sanitizing step. From here you have two ways to render the vegetables safe.

Blanching is probably the best solution to keep most of the flavor and texture, while still avoiding illness. To do this, briefly immerse the vegetables in boiling water, and then transfer them to a (boiled) ice water bath. The exposure to very hot water should kill most pathogens, but by only briefly exposing them to hot water you won't cook them much.

An alternate, but not as effective approach is to soak in sanitizing solution for 15-20 minutes. According to this source, there are a couple good options. One is a ionized silver suspension; in Mexico this is sold as Microdyn or Bacdyn. Another option is bleach, prepared at roughly 1 1/2 tsp bleach (5.25% hypochlorite solution) per gallon (4 liters) water. After immersion, bleach should not be rinsed off until just before use, and final rinse should be food-safe water. Note that rinses will not kill all bacteria, but will significantly reduce their counts.

Use caution if you use an alternate sanitizing procedure: a lot of vegetable washes are just intended to remove waxes and pesticide residue, not kill pathogens. Even ones with mild antibacterial properties won't cut it, since you need to kill a wide range of pathogens AND parasites: Ascaris worms in particular are common in developing areas and potentially lethal.

Finally, be extra cautious about cross-contamination. Any fresh produce should be handled as if it's raw meat, because it can carry almost any food-borne illness. Cleaning should be done before cutting produce, so as to avoid introducing pathogens into the interior. You'll probably also want to take anti-parasite medications bi-annually to supplement this, since they harder to eliminate from food and may slip through.

Oh, and if you're ever tempted to skip the cleaning steps, remember: there's a good chance your vegetables have poop on them.

Final footnote: there is an EXCELLENT resource on food safety in the Yucatan, by a PhD who worked in public health and for the EPA. The advice is broadly applicable to anyone living in developing countries.

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The sanitizer solution is the best idea. When I don't have it I wash the vegetables with dishwashing liquid. –  doctoraw Jun 20 '12 at 3:10
    
If you live where the vegetables are grown, you will generally become immune to local bacterial bugs. Plenty of modern research is showing we shouldn't be over-cleaning our vegetables, we actually need local soil based bacteria –  TFD Jun 20 '12 at 21:13
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@TFD: I'm not a fan of food safety paranoia and over-cleaning, but this is totally different. If even hungry locals won't risk eating it raw, you'd be stupid to do it yourself. Yes, you can survive eating feces-contaminated food, but you also get a high and unnecessary risk of hepatitis, tapeworms, cholera, askaris worms, dysentary, and other fun. Some of these are potentially deadly, and all are avoidable by not being a bloody idiot. –  BobMcGee Jun 20 '12 at 21:52
    
@BobMcGee Overreaction, OP mentions subtropical, these are not the usually problems at that climate level. I live subtropical, we don't have any of those going here! Even in Asia the human shit goes on the trees, not the greens. Yucatan is tropical too –  TFD Jun 24 '12 at 4:40
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I don't like censoring, so I won't delete @TFD 's comment despite flags. But please note that there have been outbreaks of deadly disease caused by eating contaminated produce. cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/fs/irradiation/news/… and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Germany_E._coli_O104:H4_outbreak are just two examples I can cite off the top of my head. Also, the people who are paid to know these things (USDA and their analogues in other countries) insist that produce must be washed. Whatever opinions are stated here, the facts speak: not washing is dangerous. –  rumtscho Jun 24 '12 at 13:59
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my father says he used to wash veggies with Hydrogen peroxide. He's pretty healthy. I didn't believe him so I googled it. http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/h/hydrogen-peroxide.htm Scroll down to number 16. It says It's fine to use it with vegetables AND fruit. :)

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Welcome to this site. Nice answer. A bit more expensive then household bleach, I guess. –  BaffledCook Jun 22 '12 at 15:47
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Buy a water filter to take the dirt out of the water, it will look clean.

Dilute a drop of food-safe bleach in the filtered water.

Let treated water stand covered for 30 minutes. If water is still cloudy after filtering, double the amount of bleach used.

After ensuring the water is correctly treated, use it to wash your vegetables.

Or go with BobMcGee's advise.

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Take a look at this and a more complicated version.. It seems baking soda or vinegar can be used to clean vegetables.

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That wash looks great for removing wax and pesticide residue, but I don't think it will solve the food safety problem posed in the question. –  BobMcGee Jun 16 '12 at 9:38
    
@BobMcGee, baking soda is effective at killing bacteria, as it's a base. Vinegar is good for conserving food, but I don't think it's any good for sanitation (but I'm not an expert). –  BaffledCook Jun 22 '12 at 15:50
    
@BaffledCook: In this case, I'm most concerned about worms... Ascaris, tapeworms, flukes, etc. While baking soda may mitigate bacterial risks, I'd really like to see a reputable source to indicate it's strong enough for this use. Otherwise I think it would be widely used to render produce safe in the regions in questions. –  BobMcGee Jun 22 '12 at 17:36
    
@BobMcGee, that's why I didn't upvote this answer. –  BaffledCook Jun 22 '12 at 17:43
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