Expert Q&A

Fruits and veggies: Does bleach make them safer?

I've heard that soaking produce in a bucket of water mixed with bleach will clean it of harmful pesticides and bacteria. In addition, the bleach is supposed to add oxygen and make it fresher/crisper. Is cleaning produce with bleach good or bad?

Although a bleaching solution kills bacteria on fruits and vegetables, it lacks the cleaning action of a surface active agent to wash off tightly bound contaminants. Bleaching solutions have been reported to produce organochlorine arcinogenic (cancer causing) residues on treated food products. Studies have proven that water and a scrub brush remove 90% of all bacteria and residues.

A few years ago, fruit and vegetable washes were big. Lately, though, they've become much less popular because they don't provide any added benefits. There is simply no research to support the idea that bleach makes fruits and vegetables healthier. Moreover, the fact that bleach can add oxygen actually would be a bad thing. Think about the effects of oxidation (rust, browning of apples and bananas): Oxygen produces free radicals, which cause damage to cells and eventually mutations (which lead to cancer). That's why we promote anti-oxidant foods, which work against oxidation. Yes, oxygen is essential for life, but too much is a bad thing.

Erin Dummert RD, CD
Contributing Expert

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