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When you buy vegetables at a farmers market, often you will get root vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots) that are unwashed and with its dirt still clinging on them. I heard somewhere that this will prolong its shelf life. Is this true? If so, how?

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Not really, the dirt's there because of:

  1. Authenticity: dirty veggies make people think "garden-fresh"
  2. Laziness: farmers don't want to spend much time cleaning their vegetables

Washing to remove dirt won't shorten the shelf life, but mechanically removing dirt (as in with a hard brush) might in some cases as it could remove or puncture skins or peels.

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It's a bad sign! A farmer that doesn't want to keep their dirt is lazy, and runs a bad business, they may also be hiding bad quality produce under a layer of dirt. Freshly picked and washed vegetables should be clean, and last as long, if not longer than unwashed. – TFD Oct 12 '12 at 11:04
dirt is much more likely from heavier ie clay soil rather than sandy loamy. My carrots often have little sticky mud patches whereas my green onions have a dusting of sand around the roots. I prefer cleaning veg myself rather than the agricultural (tainted) water of veg packers. – Pat Sommer Oct 15 '12 at 5:14

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