10 Foods That Become Health Hazards When Washed – And 10 That Really Do Need A Scrub

To wash or not to wash. That is the question. No, we’re not talking about personal hygiene – you should always take care of that. And we sincerely hope that you do. We’re talking about food. Because there are certain things you should always wash before eating, and others that you most definitely shouldn’t. And it could be incredibly dangerous if you get it wrong. So here’s our roundup to help you out in both instances.

Foods you should not wash before cooking or eating

1. Lettuce

Lettuce is that leafy plant you eat when you’ve started your New Year’s resolutions and are doing the utmost to eat healthily. Or it’s that deplorable rabbit food you remove from the top of your hamburger in a diner somewhere. Whatever the scenario, many of us wash this leaf vegetable with water before serving it. And you’d be surprised to learn that sometimes we shouldn’t.

Take a bag of prewashed lettuce, for example. Jeff Nelkin, a food-safety guru and dietitian from Woodland Hills, California said, “In my experience, contamination is much more likely to happen in your own home than in a factory.” So in that instance, throw it straight into a bowl, add some chopped tomatoes, some chicken, crispy croutons and creamy Caesar dressing and you’re good to go.

2. Chicken

Chicken is a very popular and lean meat. Well, it is until you or KFC add deep fried breadcrumbs to it. But an alarming amount of people around the world are making a massive and potentially dangerous error when preparing poultry, by washing it beforehand with water. Are you one of them?

Marianna Gravely, a spokeswoman for the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA), told BuzzFeed Food that washing chicken can lead to the spread of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter. Instead, just cook it thoroughly at a heat of at least 165°F for as long as is necessary and ensure the juices run clear before eating.


3. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are something of a polarizing food. Some people love them, whilst others carefully remove them from the top of a pizza and slide them into the trash. Whichever is you, you should know that washing them in water beforehand is not a good idea. Actually it’s a really bad one.

So why shouldn’t you wash your ‘shrooms? Well, once they have been drenched by H2O, it’s mission impossible to fully dry the edible fungi. Meaning they won’t take well to being sautéed. Even more of an issue is that they’ll quickly become slimy and go off. So you won’t be able to store them in the fridge for the short period you might have done if you’d resisted the urge to run the tap.


4. Fish

There are many different fish in the sea – cue canned laughter please – and numerous ways to cook them. From grilling salmon to deep frying cod, whatever your method of cooking, it’s vital you learn not to wash them with water beforehand. Because it could be really unsafe to do so.

Instead of removing bacteria from it, you’re likely spreading it over the fish and into the sink – by water washing. The USDA warns as much, and it strongly suggests you stick to cooking fish thoroughly to kill the harmful bacteria. Now where did we last leave the chips?…


5. Eggs

Whether you like your eggs poached, scrambled, fried or just hard boiled, there’s one thing you shouldn’t do with them. Yes you’ve guessed it: that is to wash them before cooking them. So what are the reasons why you should avoid running your eggs under the cold tap?

Well, in the United States the procedure for cleaning eggs – their outer shells that is – is of a high standard anyway. They’re carefully washed with hot water and soap. Plus the most important thing is to cook the eggs properly yourself, of course, aiming for firm yolks. This should ensure the scary prospect of food poisoning from salmonella or other bacteria is eliminated.


6. Pork

Pork is a versatile meat that can be cooked in a variety of ways, including roasting, frying and grilling. If you’re not a vegetarian, you will likely have eaten it in the form of sausages, chops and cutlets. But if you wash the raw meat beforehand, then you’re making a major kitchen faux-pas.

You’ve guessed it. Rinsing pork under the tap in the kitchen sink is a mightily stupid thing to do. As the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA says, you are not cleaning it – but spreading harmful bacteria via the water splatter and making cross-contamination more likely. So fry it, grill it, roast it, but don’t pre-wash it.


7. Pasta

Whether it is filled, baked in a creamy sauce or topped with meatballs, pasta is a delicious and relatively easy to make meal. But do you rinse your pasta in water before you serve it? If the answer is yes, then go and put a dunce hat on and sit in the corner.

Because washing pasta before serving it up is a bad idea. By doing so, you will remove the starch present in the water you’ve boiled it in. This basically ensures any sauce you cover it in sticks to the pasta. Running it under the cold tap will inhibit the absorption of that thick tomato or cheese sauce. And that would be a disaster, right?


8. Beef steak

Most of us who are meat-eaters love tucking into a beef steak from time to time. Whether it has been cooked medium, rare or well-done, it’s a delicious meal, particularly when served with fries and a peppercorn sauce. But like several other meats we’ve mentioned, a beef steak really shouldn’t be washed before cooking.

Plus the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service gives clear guidance on the matter. It says, “Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces” – the dreaded cross-contamination. The USDA adds that, “Meat and poultry are cleaned during processing, so further washing is not necessary.”


9. Frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables are a convenient time saver. It’s much easier to buy veggies that can be kept in a freezer than constantly going down to farmer’s markets or Trader Joes for fresh ones that might last mere days. Thus icily preserved vegetables are a staple of many freezers across the United States.

But for some reason, many still feel the need to wash the frozen veggies before cooking them. Yet doing so is merely a mindless misuse of minutes. Because at some point along the journey to being packaged and frozen, the vegetables are cut and cleaned. So there will be no bacteria present, and you can go ahead and boil them.


10. Turkey

Ah, turkey. A staple of American tables and fridges during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. The traditional bird to eat in the latter part of the year. But did you know that washing it in the sink before putting it in the oven was a terrible idea?

Well, you do now. And it’s for the same reason that you shouldn’t wash other raw, uncooked meats: the danger of cross-contamination. But there is one such occasion in which the USDA permits you to clean your turkey. “The only reason a whole turkey should be washed is if it was brined,” a spokesperson told the Insider website.


Foods you should wash before cooking or eating

1. White rice

Rice is a starchy carbohydrate that you should aim to eat a fair amount of if you want to maintain a healthy diet. And in 2019/20 China’s population consumed almost 158 million tons of the grain. White rice in particular is very popular. But did you know you should probably give it a wash before you cook it?

It is not strictly essential, but rinsing white rice before cooking it will eradicate the starchy coating on it – and give it a longer lifespan. Not doing so means it will begin to smell and go off quicker. So pour the rice into a bowl, tip some cold water over it and churn it around until the H2O becomes clear.


2. Potatoes

Who could live without potatoes? Without the starchy root vegetables they’d be no fries, tater tots, roast potatoes or jackets. They are also a cornerstone of a balanced diet, depending of course, on how they are cooked. But should they be washed before you cook them?

The answer is yes. Because potatoes grow in dirty fields. So they absolutely do require cleaning at some point. And producers likely won’t wash them as doing so could make the spuds damp and musty by trapping moisture in the cracks. So give them a quick rinse if you are going to leave the skins on for extra fiber. Rinse again for the peeled variety.


3. Nuts

Nuts are a tasty snack that many of us enjoy, including squirrels. From almonds to cashews and pecans to pistachios, there are many different varieties to eat. And although most of them have a high fat content, they also contain fiber and nutrients. But were you aware you should, ahem, wash your nuts?

Well, you really should. Because nuts can often be covered in tannins, dirt and unwelcome chemicals and acids before they are bagged or tinned up. So it’s a good idea to wash your nuts in a bowl of clean, cold water, scrubbing them to remove any of the above mentioned nasties.


4. Leeks

Leeks are the close cousins of onions and garlic. The often sweet alliums are a good source of nutrients. But do you wash them before cooking? No? Well, it is highly advisable to thoroughly wash the vegetables, because soil and dirt regularly find themselves in-between the numerous layers of leaves.

BBC Good Food recommends beginning the washing by chopping off the base and removing the uppermost leaves. Then remove the tough outer layer. If you want to keep the leek whole, “make a slit from the top to the point where the green meets the white, cutting through the center.” Now it’s time to run the cold tap over it, yanking back the layers so any lingering dirt can be properly detached.


5. Shellfish

Shellfish are, as the moniker implies, animals that live in the seas and oceans of the world under shells or similar exteriors. We’re talking clams, crayfish, shrimp, lobsters, crabs, scallops, mussels and oysters. These edible species all have both health benefits and risks, the latter of which can be exacerbated by not washing them.

So you should always wash whatever shellfish you are planning on eating thoroughly before cooking. And you should do the same if you’re chowing down raw on oysters or clams. Put them under the cold tap, then in a bowl of cold water with a pinch of salt and remove any dirt, sand or grit that may have got into them.


6. Canned beans

Canned or tinned beans – such as black beans and kidney beans – are a staple in kitchen cupboards across America. They are generally quick and easy to cook, cheap, preserve a relatively long time when unopened and provide some nutrients. But there is one major drawback with them, and it’s a reason why they should be washed.

That reason is their sodium content. Because manufacturers of canned beans often add salt to the product to boost their flavor. The website Cooking Light discovered over 500mg in half a cup of beans. And this makes them a great deal unhealthier. So it’s a good idea to rinse them in cold water and drain before serving.


7. Parsley

A green, peppery herb that is packed full of Vitamins A, C and K, it’s no wonder parsley is popular in the kitchen. It’s often thrown on top of soups, salads, casseroles and fish dishes. But were you aware that not washing it could potentially be a health risk?

It’s true: parsley is often up there with the dirtiest foods. Top chef Christian Souvenir told Reader’s Digest, “Since most herbs are sensitive to water – they go flat or get slimy relatively quickly – they never really get the thorough wash necessary to make sure you’re not eating small amounts of dirt with your herbs.” So make a point of washing the herb in cold water before carefully drying with paper towels.


8. Edible-skinned fruits

How many times have you picked up an apple, apricot, or a handful of berries and grapes and tucked into them without thinking? Many times we’re sure. And although the edible-skinned fruits themselves are largely nutritious and healthy – besides any naturally occurring sugars that is – you really should be washing them first.

Because all of the edible-skinned fruits we’ve mentioned could potentially be covered in dirt, insects or some other unpleasant entity, such as bacteria. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests washing them under cold, running water to minimize the chances of becoming infected with a nasty, food-borne ailment such as the norovirus.


9. Non-edible skinned fruits

Non-edible skinned fruits? We’re talking about avocados, melons, and pineapples, for example. They’re full of flavor and nutrients. And it’s not necessary to wash them if you’re not going to eat the outer skin, is it? Well, we hate to break it to you, but yes, actually it is. The experts advise that you should still wash them thoroughly.

But why is it necessary? Well, nasty bugs can linger on the outside of the rind of an avocado, melon or pineapple, for example. And cutting the fruit ready to eat can transfer the unwanted bacteria such as listeria or salmonella onto the part you want to put in your mouth. So scrub the outer rind with a clean brush in cold water to be safe.


10 Whole grains

Whole grains are the seeds of cereal plants like wheat, corn and rice plus non-cereal plants such as buckwheat and amaranth. They include everything from quinoa to barley. And they’ve been a staple of our diets for years. Yet not everyone knows that they should be washed before eating.

Caitlin Hoff, a health and safety examiner, told Reader’s Digest that whole grains “should be rinsed thoroughly with cold water before cooking to remove excess starches, dirt, and germs.” Plus quinoa has a natural bitter tasting saponin coating on each seed, which most of us would probably prefer to be removed. So there you go.