How to Kill E. Coli on Vegetables

Vegetables with edible parts that touch the soil are more likely to contain E. coli.
Vegetables with edible parts that touch the soil are more likely to contain E. coli. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

It is important to wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them to prevent an E. coli illness. It only takes a few cells of the bacteria to make a person sick. The organism is destroyed through pasteurization or the cooking process. The risks of getting sick from E. coli increase with vegetables that have edible parts that touch the soil, such as leafy vegetables, radishes and carrots. Some signs of E. coli are vomiting, diarrhea -- sometimes with blood -- severe cramps and abdominal pain.

Things You'll Need

  • Sharp paring knife
  • Vegetable brush or firm scrubbing brush

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Wash your vegetables thoroughly under running water -- lukewarm or room temperature. This is important to remove not only E. coli but also pests, dirt and pesticide residue.

Separate leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, kale or spinach. Wash each individual leaf.

Peel root vegetables, such as potatoes, yams, turnips or carrots, with a sharp paring knife before using them in food preparation. If you wish to leave the peeling on potatoes or other root vegetables, scrub them with a firm vegetable or other scrubbing brush.

Tips & Warnings

  • A three- to five-minute soak in white distilled vinegar is particularly effective in reducing the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. Soak fresh produce, such as apples and lettuce, in a basin filled with the vinegar. Swish the water around occasionally, and then rinse the produce before eating.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing foods.
  • Commercial vegetable washes are no more effective than using plain water, according to the University of Maine website.
  • Avoid using water that is 10 degrees or more cooler than the vegetables for the most effective cleaning.
  • Sometimes E. coli has severe complications, particularly in a young child or elderly individual.


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