9 Foods You're Probably Cleaning Wrong

Sometimes a quick rinse isn't enough. Here are nine ingredients that are often washed incorrectly—and how to do the job right. Plus, there's good news: for a few foods, not washing is the best option!

An essential part of the cooking process is prepping your ingredients, and most of us probably don't think too much about how we wash fruits, veggies and other foods, but as with most things, there's a right way and there's a wrong way. (Bad kitchen habits? Here are 10 Bad Cooking Habits You Should Break.) Sometimes, incorrect cleaning means a little grit in your salad, but in other instances it can be the difference between a memorable meal and a food-safety nightmare. Here are nine foods that are frequently washed in a way that's less than ideal, and the proper way to get them cleaned and ready for your next great feast.

1. Mushrooms

If you dread or even avoid cooking mushrooms, because it takes so long to clean each one with a damp paper towel, we have good news. It's actually totally OK to wash your favorite fungi. Mushrooms are porous, so it's best not to soak them, but a quick rinse under cold, running water is perfectly fine and won't waterlog them. Rinsing mushrooms will save you time, not to mention paper towels, which makes mushroom-heavy dishes like this Vegetarian Mushroom Stroganoff a whole lot more doable.

2. Chicken

There's a long-held belief that washing raw chicken is crucial. However, this is the last thing you should do. Yes, raw chicken can contain bacteria, but washing just risks spreading that bacteria to kitchen surfaces, utensils and even other food. Instead, use a separate cutting board and utensils for raw chicken, wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after you handle it, and use a thermometer to check that your bird is fully cooked—that's what's going to kill any bacteria. The FDA recommends an internal temperature of 165°F, whether you're roasting a whole chicken (learn how here: Basic Whole Roast Chicken) or cooking parts. Also: While doneness temperatures vary, the same no-wash policy applies to all meat and poultry.

3. Bagged Lettuce

It may be tempting to wash bagged lettuce, but if it's labeled "prewashed," "ready-to-eat" or "triple-washed," it's safer to use it as is. The reason? Washing those greens simply opens the door for contamination from bacteria already in your kitchen. This rule applies to other bagged items like precut carrots, as long as they're labeled the same way. The bottom line? Tonight's salad prep just got significantly speedier. (Try this Apple-Cranberry Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese tonight!)

hands holding salad greens under a running kitchen faucet
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4. Greens

Unlike bagged lettuce, greens bought in bunches require thorough washing. The leaves of hearty greens—think spinach, collards, kale and chard—have a knack for trapping dirt, so rinsing really won't cut it. Swish the greens in a bowl of cold water to remove any dirt—it will fall to the bottom—and soak especially dirty greens for 5 minutes. Next, lift out the greens and dry with towels or a salad spinner. The process takes a few extra minutes, but unless you're a fan of soil in your sautéed greens, it's definitely worth it.

5. Berries

While we love advance prep, rule No. 1 for washing berries is to wait until you're ready to eat them. Why? Moisture leads to mold and spoilage, so it's best to store berries dry. If you must wash berries ahead, be sure to thoroughly dry them on a paper-towel–lined baking sheet before refrigerating. As for the actual washing, remember that berries are delicate. Strawberries are sturdy enough to be rinsed in a colander, but blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries require extra care. Place them in a colander, dip it in cold water and gently swish the berries to remove any dirt without crushing them. (After they're clean, find out The Best Way to Store Fresh Berries here.)

6. Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts & Cauliflower

Cruciferous veggies have tiny nooks and crannies that love to trap dirt, but a quick soak will ensure they're perfectly clean and ready to eat. Soaking gives the water time to penetrate—this is especially handy when cooking whole heads of cauliflower—and wash away unwanted extras, but follow with a rinse under cold running water just to be safe.

7. Rice

Have you ever noticed that rice cooking instructions often say to rinse the rice? If you skip this step, you're not alone, but it's time to change your ways. Rinsing removes debris, but more important, it removes surface starch, which is what leads to clumpy, gummy rice. So, grab that strainer and give your grains a good wash. The water doesn't need to run clear, but a thorough rinse will bring you one step closer to fluffy, tender rice (Find out How to Cook Brown Rice Perfectly here.)

8. Scallions

You're probably already washing scallions under cold running water, but did you know their tubes can fill with dirt? As you rinse, simply fill and drain the tubes to remove any trapped dirt. It's that easy.

9. Leeks

When it comes to trapping dirt, there may be no worse offender than leeks. These versatile members of the allium family are grown with soil piled around them, which means they need serious cleaning. Start by trimming the roots and dark green tops, then cut each leek lengthwise in half. If you're cooking leeks in larger pieces (like in this Oven-Braised Leeks recipe), hold each leek half under cold running water, riffling the layers like a deck of cards to help remove all the dirt. For smaller pieces, cut or chop your leeks then swish them in a bowl of cold water before lifting them out and leaving the dirt behind.

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