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Thoughts on Veggie Wash


Fat Guy
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I'm pretty sure Veggie Wash is a brand name, however I often hear folks using the terms "veggie wash" and "fruit and veggie wash" generically. In the grocery store where I shop, there have got to be five or six brands of this stuff available. The main ingredients in each seem to be "Surfactants," which, if I can take a wild guess at what that means, must be the things that act on the surface of the produce to remove wax, dirt, residues, whatever.

Anecdotally, I think the stuff works. Maybe there's some chemical trickery here, but I can say for sure that when I put some fruit in a bowl, spray that stuff on, then fill with water, the water takes on a noticeable gray cast. This happens to a lesser extent, but still happens, even if you rinse the fruit with water first. So, maybe the stuff really works. If not, it at least leaves a pleasing citrus aroma.

Maybe someone can explain how these surfactant things work.

I'm curious as to the extent of surfactant adoption among eGullet Society members.

Anybody know of any serious tests or studies on these products? Do they really work, or is it all psychological?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Surfactants lower the surface tension of water, so it probably runs off more easily and has greater penetration into semi-porus material, but I'm not sure how that would help you with fruit.

They also have hydophobic and hydrophilic ends so they can form little pockets around bits of oily dirt that would otherwise not come off with a rinse.

No idea how well they actually work, about the same as soap I would guess.

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Maybe it works, maybe not, but it has always struck me as another product being marketed to germ-scared housewives. Is it really healthy for everything to be so clean?

Of course, we're hearing more in the news every day about contaminated food, so maybe some worries aren't unwarranted. I just can't bring myself to spend the money on veggie wash or swab my counters continually with germicidal wipes.

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Now that you've made me curious, I had to look it up. From what I read, washing in water does about as good a job as the veggie wash. You can also make your own with vinegar or various other things.

I found a New York Times article that was helpful:

Like liquid Fit, Veggie Wash and Organiclean do not claim to kill bacteria. Veggie Wash removes wax and soil ''better than water does,'' said Steve Barker, a vice president for sales for the manufacturer.

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...n=&pagewanted=1

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I use Environne VegiWash - not all the time, but usually when preparing a quantity of fruit such as for a fruit salad. The one-off pieces of fruit as a snack get just a cursory rinse-and-rub under the tap.

The only study on the efficacy of these products I know was done bt the state of Connecticut. (The report may be found here.) It says, in short, that these products are ineffective and that rubbing under water is responsible for the bulk of pesticide removal.

I'd like to see other studies contradicting this one, not the least because the source has conflicting interests (agricultural production and welfare of residents).

David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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I'd also like to see some more serious studies. This is a situation where common sense says the stuff should work, so I'll need more convincing. In terms of analogies, if these produce washes work on the same principles as soap, then are the studies saying washing with water is just as effective as washing with soap? That seems hard to swallow. Also, it's plainly visible to the eye that these products get stuff cleaner than water does. So I'd have to see some information as to where that gray stuff comes from if it's not from the surface of the produce -- someone would have to explain that it's a chemical reaction of some sort and not actual grime.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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From a purely personal note. I suffer from allergies to some of the preservatives they are using for fruits. I bought the Vegi-wash and have experienced no problems while a simple cold water rinsing just doesn't seem to get the job done. Soap and warm water is my second route (for wax based coatings). I'd like to know more about what preservative are being used and on what types of produce. Are peaches and appricots (where I experience most problems) treated different then apples or vegetables?

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I imagine that most of the pesticides et al. are water soluble, in order to mix and apply them with ease. Though I do not know for sure.

Waxed/shellaced fruits and vegetables are covered after they are picked right? So in order to clean off any chemical residue, you would first need to get rid of that coating. Since this coating is not water soluble, it either needs to be physically removed via scrubbing which could potentially damage fruits, or chemically through using some sort of wash.

I just use water, and I don't even really scrub most of the time ( :unsure: ). I would be interested in using a veggie wash, but only if we could find real data that they are effective, and not just a waste of money.

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Here's what the Veggie Wash people claim:

Pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are specifically engineered to be "waterproof" so that they are not washed off by rain and irrigation. Many fruits and vegetables (grapes, apples, cucumbers, etc.) are also coated in wax to preserve the quality and appearance of the produce from the fields to your kitchen table.

. . . . .

In addition to agricultural chemicals and other residues, 20 or more strangers may have handled your fruit or vegetable before you put it in your mouth.

. . . . .

Veggie Wash® safely and effectively removes wax, soil and agricultural chemicals found on standard and organic produce. It cuts through the wax and chemicals to leave fruits and vegetables truly, safely clean.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Here's what the Veggie Wash people claim:
Pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are specifically engineered to be "waterproof" so that they are not washed off by rain and irrigation. Many fruits and vegetables (grapes, apples, cucumbers, etc.) are also coated in wax to preserve the quality and appearance of the produce from the fields to your kitchen table.

. . . . .

In addition to agricultural chemicals and other residues, 20 or more strangers may have handled your fruit or vegetable before you put it in your mouth.

. . . . .

Veggie Wash® safely and effectively removes wax, soil and agricultural chemicals found on standard and organic produce. It cuts through the wax and chemicals to leave fruits and vegetables truly, safely clean.

Well that is interesting. I had assumed that part of the application process required them to be soluble in water, but it makes sense that it would need to survive rain.

A little more research shows that a petroleum base is normally mixed with sufactants/emulsifiers in order to allow it to mix with water and stick to the plants.

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I'd also like to see some more serious studies. This is a situation where common sense says the stuff should work, so I'll need more convincing. In terms of analogies, if these produce washes work on the same principles as soap, then are the studies saying washing with water is just as effective as washing with soap? That seems hard to swallow.

There are a few issues here. First, you're right of course that one would like to see more serious studies. However, failing that it seems like there are some things you can do at home to evaluate their claims. For example, as to the wax removal, there are several common fruits and vegetables that typically come with a relatively thick outer coating of wax. Cucumbers, for example. So, buy a bunch of really waxy cucumbers. Wash them three ways: one using VeggieWash, one using Dawn dishwashing liquid and one using nothing but water. It's relatively easy to tell when a cucumber is waxed or not, so one should have little trouble making comparisons.

Second, this is not a situation where my common sense says there should be a meaningful difference.

Third, your comparison to soap is an interesting one, and brings up a few thoughts. For example, the kind of soap, and how it is formulated makes a big difference. Some soaps contain perfumes, some contain antibacterial agents, some aren't even "soap" (which is a specific product derived from fat) and are instead based on sodium laureth sulfate, etc. These things all make a big difference in how the soap works. Another issue is whether washing with soap is better than washing with just water. Well, assuming we're not talking about antibacterial soap, the answer is "it depends on what you have to clean." Soap and detergents are effective cleaners primarily because they work as surfactants and facilitate emulsion of oil and water. This is important because dirt and bacteria like to stick to oil. So, if you can remove the oil, you're removing most of the dirt and bacteria. If there's no oil on the thing you're trying to clean, washing with soap will not necessarily be better than washing with water alone (in some cases, e.g., using a sponge that is less than brand-new to apply the soap, it's actually worse to use soap). So... if VeggieWash works mostly because of its surfactant and emulsifier properties, then it should only make a big difference where oil is present.

Fourth, assuming that there is enough oil present for VeggieWash's surfactant/emulsifier propertys to make a difference, I would like to understand how using VeggieWash is a step up from using an extremely low concentration solution of water and dishwashing liquid, and rinsing thoroughly (something that is also recommended for VeggieWash).

Also, it's plainly visible to the eye that these products get stuff cleaner than water does. So I'd have to see some information as to where that gray stuff comes from if it's not from the surface of the produce -- someone would have to explain that it's a chemical reaction of some sort and not actual grime.

I'm curious: Is it plainly visible to the eye that the vegetables are cleaner by looking at the vegetables (i.e., does a cucumber given the VeggieWash treatment look more clean than one washed in water)? Or are you basing this on the gray stuff? Because that sounds an awful lot like a chemical reaction to me. There are a lot of things that make people think something is happening, when in fact nothing is happening. For example, ear candling. This is where people stick a special, long hollow-wound candle in their ears and light the other end. Supposedly the warmth and mild vacuum created by doing this extracts all manner of nastiness from your ear. And when you're finished, you can unravel the last bit of the candle and see how it has turned brown and yucky inside. This is irrefutable evidence of all the toxins that were removed from your body! Except that when you test them, it's clear that no vacuum is created (which is a good thing, as it would burst your eardrum) and the insude looks yucky at the end even when it's not stuck in anyone's ear. The point of this is to say that, just because there is an apparent effect doesn't mean something is happening.

My thinking is that something probably does happen, and that the produce does end up a little bit cleaner. However, I'm not sold on things like VeggieWash being better than a spray bottle filled with water, a little vinegar and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Now that I think of it, VeggieWash's ingredients -- water, natural cleaners made from corn and coconut, lemon oil, sodium citrate (a natural derivative of citrus fruit), glycerin (from coconut oil), and grapefruit seed extract -- don't sound all that different from the ingredients for this organic dishwashing soap -- coconut surfactant, conditioner and degreaser from coconut, orange peel extract, grapefruit seed and pulp extract, aloe, vitamin E, linear sulfonate, filtered spring water -- except that VeggieWash contains a lot more water.

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I'm curious:  Is it plainly visible to the eye that the vegetables are cleaner by looking at the vegetables (i.e., does a cucumber given the VeggieWash treatment look more clean than one washed in water)?

That's how I perceive it. For example, if I take a plum, where the filmy stuff on it is easily seen, and I run it under water, I can rinse it for as long as I like and that stuff will not come off completely. If I spray it with some of this produce wash stuff, the filmy stuff washes right off. At least, that's the appearance of what's happening. In terms of the gray cast to the washing water if you do this in a bowl, it may be a chemical reaction, however it doesn't happen after the produce has been cleaned: unclean produce + produce wash = gray stuff; produce already washed in water + produce wash = gray stuff; produce already washed in produce wash + produce wash = no gray stuff. Again, lot of places in that chain of events for misinterpretation, but all this favors, to me, the presumption that the stuff does something.

Making your own: this seems like the way to go, if we can deconstruct everything and figure out what does what and why.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yea, like I said, it does sound like something probably does happen.

I'd be interested to see what results we would get in comparing VeggieWash to a very weak solution of water and some high-end organic dishwashing liquid.

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So... I did an experiment. Came home from the cheap Korean-owned, Mexican-staffed fruit stand on my corner with a big bag of citrus: a dozen juice oranges, a half-dozen grapefruits and a half-dozen limes (all for around 7 bucks, which is why I love this place). Filled up the sink with cold water, added around a half-teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid, swished it around and dumped in the citrus.

The water took on a greyish cast almost immediately. I rubbed each piece of fruit with my hands under the water. Interestingly, each one felt a little slippery when I started rubbing it, but after a few moments became slightly tacky. This felt like (and I assume it was) something washing off the outside of the fruit. I drained the sink, sprayed off the fruit and refilled the sink halfway for a final rinse. The outside of the fruit now has the non-shiny appearance of unwaxed fruit friends with citrus trees have given me from time to time. I licked the outside of one orange, and it didn't taste of soap at all.

A very mild solution of Dawn and water seemed to do the trick, and washed away easily. I think I may start doing this with some of my vegetables.

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I mean...ya know.... If you are already using dish soap on things you put your food on it cant be that much of a stretch to use a little to wash the food itself.

wash on

tracey

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I'm wondering, though, how dish soap would do on more delicately textured fruits like peaches and blackberries, or on vegetables like broccoli. Rinsing off the smooth skin of a lime is sort of like rinsing off a plate, but some produce has a lot of nooks and crannies.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The amount of detergent I used is so small (1/2 teaspoon or perhaps less in a large kitchen sink full of water) that I would bet I could have not rinsed at all. It might have had a bit of a funny taste, which can also be true of things soaked in VeggieWash and not sufficiently rinsed, but I don't think it would have made me sick. I'll give it a try and see how it goes. What other things should I try? Blackberries? Broccoli? Lettuce? Anything else?

The point of all this, for me anyway, is that I suspect two things: 1. that using small amounts of surfactant does result in cleaner fruit and vegetables, and 2. that when it really comes down to it, these vegetable washes amount to extremely dilute (and expensive) detergent.

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Strawberries, blackberries, ripe peaches and broccoli are the ones where I've noticed that, if you don't rinse them very carefully and quickly, you get veggie wash taste. Which is not bad, mind you. It's citrusy -- it basically tastes like you squeezed a little lemon juice on your blackberries. There's no soap flavor at all.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 3 months later...

So I tried some dish detergent on a few pieces of fruit. Since the results of this experiment mostly confirmed what I thought would happen, I assign them a low level of credibility. However, what I did was this: I took two each of apples, peaches, small bunches of grapes and handfuls of raspberries. I used Ecos Fruit & Veggie Wash on half and Palmolive on half. For the apples, there was no difference that I could discern, and no residual taste from either product. For everything else, there were differences. The raspberries were basically ruined by the Palmolive -- they had a distinct soapy taste no matter how much I rinsed them. The raspberries washed with the Fruit & Veggie Wash were also affected, but the taste was just a hint of generic citrus. I went back to the box and rinsed one just with water, and the citrus taste was not there. I would not recommend either product for raspberries if you want to preserve their taste. For the grapes and peaches, I didn't notice any citrus taste from the Fruit & Veggie Wash, but I did notice a little soapy taste from the Palmolive. I think with the peach it was probably due to the rough surface. I was a little surprised by the grapes, because I assumed the smooth surface would easily rid itself of the soap. Maybe it's because there are little holes at the stem end? No idea.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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All pesticides are water soluble, and wash off in the rain. When a farmer applies pesticides, they buy a concentrate and cut it with water to spray them on. Farmers are careful not to apply right before a rain, as they would be wasting their money. If they get an unexpected rain, they often need to reapply (though there are sometimes label mandated waiting periods). Of course, it depends on what it is. Some things like kill-on-contact insecticides, work instantly and could be applied right before a rain. Other things need to sit a while and be ingested to work. And all these chemicals have mandatory pre-harvest intervals- an specified amount of time after application that a farmer must wait before a crop can be picked.

I worked in lettuce fields, apple orchards, rice paddies, and corn fields studying agrichemicals. I met 80 year old farmers who used to stir the chemicals in their tanks with their bare arms back when chemicals were very poorly understood. I also met crop duster pilots who watched friends die when planes crashed with a full load of something really toxic.

So a simple rinse in water does the trick. Or you can use a surfactant. Soap is usually the easiest surfactant to come by- though there are some overpriced gimmicky products that will do the same thing...

And BTW- apples are the WORST. You would not believe how many different things are sprayed on apples, or how often. The crop I worked on outside of Grand Rapids had 16 different chemicals used, some of them 6 times during the season. And the farmer there, while generally cautious, had no qualms about yanking apples off the trees, wiping them on his shirt, and eating them. He told me he would be tickled to use less chemicals, but if they had so much as a dimple on them he couldn't sell them.

Any dish you make will only taste as good as the ingredients you put into it. If you use poor quality meats, old herbs and tasteless winter tomatoes I don’t even want to hear that the lasagna recipe I gave you turned out poorly. You're a cook, not a magician.

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Interesting results, Steven.

A few questions and thoughts:

How much Palmolive did you use, and in how much water? In the experiments I did (which did not involve raspberries, peaches or grapes but did involve citrus, lettuce and other greens) I filled the entire kitchen sink with water and added around a quarter teaspoon of Dawn. That was plenty to get the same effects ascribed to Veggie Wash, and I probably could have used less. I did not detect any residual flavor from the soap, although it seems clear from your experiences that certain foods are more affected than others.

I gather that the main difference was that you detected more residual taste and a more objectionable aftertaste on the items treated with Palmolive? But that there was otherwise no observable difference in the extent to which the different pieces of fruit appeared to have been cleaned of various residues by the two different treatments? Assuming you used minimal Palmolive as I did, I wonder what results might be obtained by either a) further reducing the amount of detergent (e.g., a single drop of detergent in a kitchen sink full of water), or b) using a citrus-based "low impact" organic detergent like this one instead of Palmolive.

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All pesticides are water soluble, and wash off in the rain.

this is what I thought, but the whole waxed vegetable thing still concerns me. if any water soluble pesticide has soaked into the skin of a vegetable, and then the whole thing gets waxed, isn't it possible that the poison's been sealed in?

i also wonder about the possibility of pesticides getting INTO the plant, since the water based pesticide is bound to flushed into the soil where it could be picked up by the root system. has this been studied?

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