When making a meal at home, many of us have the habit of peeling all our veggies -- pumpkin, zucchini, carrots, everything. But do we really need to? Considering we waste $8 billion of food each year, with the average household throwing out one in five grocery bags per week, couldn’t we simply stop peeling our veggies?
Many might dislike the idea of not peeling veggies for fear of food safety, but it’s not as much of a concern as we think.
“From a food safety perspective it’s probably not necessary,” Food Standards Australia and NZ Spokeswoman Lorraine Haase told The Huffington Post Australia.
Accredited practising dietitian Caroline Trickey agrees.
“There shouldn’t be any need other than to wash them under the tap,” Trickey said. “If someone has issues with their immune system, things like pre-packaged mixed lettuce bags need to be washed a lot more carefully -- but more generally, just rinse your fruit and veggies under the tap.”
According to Haase, the need to peel vegetables is particularly not necessary when the vegetables will be cooked.
“Heat is the natural enemy of bacteria, so in the cooking step it will mitigate the risk of food contamination,” Haase said. “If you’re cooking up a beautiful chicken and vegetable soup or stew, it's going to get really hot and get to a temperature that will kill the bacteria.”
This same principle applies to roasting vegetables.
“I roast my pumpkin with the skin on,” Haase said. “It saves time and tastes great.”
“When you’re roasting, as long as you’re cooking it to extremely high temperatures, it’s going to kill the kind of bacteria that causes food poisoning.”
Not only does keeping the skin on vegetables produce less waste, it has nutritional benefits, too.
“There are so many valuable nutrients in and under the skin of fruit and vegetables,” Trickey told HuffPost Australia.
“That’s where a lot of the fibre and phytonutrients is concentrated, so if you’re peeling them you're losing a lot of that fibre and nutrients.”
However, when it comes to vegetables you will be eating raw, Haase advises washing them thoroughly and, if you really want to err on the safe side, peeling them.
“We do encourage people to wash fruit and vegetables, particularly fruit and vegetables that aren’t going to be cooked,” Haase said.
“Your main concern is the salad vegetables -- certainly washing and peeling will mitigate the risk.”
The main risk associated with raw vegetables is the possible water, soil or animal contamination while they are being grown.
“With salad vegetables in particular, if there’s going to be any kind of risk of contamination, it’s because these vegetables are grown quite close to the soil or in the soil,” Haase said. “So if there’s an issue that has occurred along the primary production chain, it can affect the produce -- including ones from your own backyard.”
The choice to peel or not peel is entirely up to you. While there may be a slight risk of contamination if you don’t peel vegetables that will be eaten raw, as long as you give them a thorough wash it’s likely to be safe.
“If they’re not going to be cooked at all I give them a wash,” Haase said. “I wash cucumber if I’m using them in a salad and I peel the carrot -- but that's mostly for taste and texture, rather than for food safety.”
If you're worried about the excess dirt on vegetables, such as potatoes, Trickey recommends investing in a vegetable brush.
"I’ve got a vegetable brush which I use to polish and clean the vegetables from dirt and grit," Trickey said. "I think everyone can benefit from using one."