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Ask Martha

Washing produce helps eliminate health risks

Nonorganic fruits and veggies can contain high amounts of pesticides.

Ruby Washington/New York Times

Nonorganic fruits and veggies can contain high amounts of pesticides.

Q. What is the best way to clean produce? Should I buy a fruit-and-vegetable wash?

A. Your efforts to remove pesticide residue and bacteria from fresh produce before eating it are worthwhile, but fruit-and-vegetable wash is not necessary to get your produce clean. The US Food and Drug Administration suggests washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling produce. Then gently rub produce with your fingers while holding it under running water. For sturdy items such as melons or root vegetables, use a clean scrub brush. You should even wash fruits and vegetables when you don’t eat the skin. Your peeler or knife can pick up bacteria from the surface and contaminate the flesh. Also remove any damaged or bruised areas, as illness-causing bacteria live and grow quite happily there. Throw away the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage. Soak leafy greens in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes to loosen dirt.

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You should not use soap, bleach, or detergents to wash produce, per FDA recommendations. If ingested, the residue could make you sick.

The fruits and vegetables that contain the highest amounts of pesticides have become known as the Dirty Dozen — apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce, and kale (and its close relative collard greens). So you might opt to buy these items from organic farms that do not use chemical pesticides. But even the Environmental Working Group, which publishes the Dirty Dozen list, doesn’t recommend forgoing these fruits and vegetables, even if they are conventionally farmed, in favor of other, less healthful snacks.

Q. I have hardwood floors in every room, and I am looking for a more efficient way to clean them. Should I consider using a steam mop?

A. Most manufacturers of steam mops, which resemble a cross between a stick vacuum and floor duster, specify that they are safe for hardwood floors sealed with polyurethane. But the National Wood Flooring Association, an industry trade association, does not recommend using these devices on wood floors. This is because steam mops, which have a built-in water tank and a heater that produces the steam used to clean and sanitize the floor, tend to leave behind more residual moisture than a regular mop. “You probably won’t’ see any damage initially,” says Rusty Swindoll of the NWFA. “But over the long term, we know that water and wood are not a good mix.”

Swindoll recommends vacuuming your floors once or twice a week to get rid of grit that can cause scratches. Follow up by mopping sealed floors in high-traffic areas, such as the kitchen or entryway. A spray mop designed for wood floor, such as the Bona Hardwood Floor Mop ($40, www.mybonahome.com), makes the job easy. Simply squeeze the trigger on the handle to send a mist of wood-floor cleaner from the attached reservoir onto the floor — no bucket needed. Alternatively, you can use a regular string or sponge mop and a cleaner made for polyurethane, such as Martha Stewart Clean Wood Floor ($20 for two, www.marthastewartclean.com).

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
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