The past few years of pandemic life have made us all a bit insane when it comes to washing things (I still sing ‘happy birthday’ in my head every time I wash my hands). And because of that, I’m not about to wash anything that doesn’t absolutely need it. So I was happy to nail down five foods that never need to be washed — plus a few that should always be washed, which actually surprised me. Because, hey, I still want to keep my family safe.
Here’s my cheat sheet: I hope that it saves you time and effort.
Updated for 2022
Related: 13 pantry essentials that never expire. Like, ever.
If you’re tempted to give your raw meat a quick rinse, resist the urge. Washing it only exposes your kitchen to more bacteria. Instead, make sure that you carefully handle your meat while transferring it from the package to the stove or oven with as little contamination to your kitchen as possible. DO wash everything that the meat touches, including knives and cutting boards.
The same goes for chicken. It’s counterintuitive, but washing chicken is the quickest way to spread bacteria around your sink and countertop. Do not do this. In fact, cooking chicken is the only way to eliminate germs like salmonella. Also, consider using a non-porous, bacteria-resistant cutting board like our favorite from Elihome (affiliate).
Washing mushrooms won’t render them unsafe to eat, but it might make them less delicious, which I consider a pretty serious danger. Skip the faucet and brush off any dirt with a dry paper towel instead. This process will yield a much better texture when they cook. Yum.
Eggs come with their own, natural antibacterial barrier (nature = so brilliant, right?), so washing them actually makes them more susceptible to germs. Plus, farmers often add another layer of protection, so that they’re safe to eat straight from the package, after you’ve properly peeled and cooked them, of course.
Pasta doesn’t require rinsing, before or after you cook it. So when you drain your pasta, refrain from rinsing it off so that you can keep the starches that help it absorb the sauce. If you want to learn more about this, check out our tutorial on how to cook pasta perfectly, which includes tips on how to cook it ahead of time so that you can always have a fast weeknight meal ready and waiting in the fridge.
You can skip this step if you’re buying nuts that are seasoned, roasted, or salted because the manufacturers have probably already washed them for you, but if you buy nuts from a bulk bin or in one of those 5-pound bags from Costco, it’s definitely worth the effort to rinse off any dirt they may have collected. Plus, nuts have a natural protectant called phytic acid that’s not great for humans to consume, so a quick wash rinses that off as well. Phew.
No surprise here; just a friendly reminder. All produce needs a good washing, even produce that comes in an inedible skin (looking at you, oranges, pineapples, and watermelons) because dirt can still easily spread to the edible flesh as you cut it. And check out the EWG’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists to see if it may be worth buying the organic variety of edible-skinned and other prone-to-contamination produce.
The one exception: You DON’T need to re-wash pre-packaged greens, but if you’re buying loose lettuce, check out our guide to washing greens.
I’ll be honest: this one never occurred to me, but some quick research shows that dried fruit is one of the dirtiest packaged foods you can buy. Whoa! I guess it makes sense since it’s just produce that’s been dehydrated. So rinse it off before you throw it in granola or yogurt or pass it to your kids for their afternoon snack.
Top image: Davide Ragusa via Unsplash