Even if you subscribe to the theory that, “God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt,” or recite the “five-second rule” as you grab a piece of fallen food from the floor, you may want to think twice about consuming the dirt found on potatoes. Read on to learn how to wash potatoes and when.
Do You Need to Wash Potatoes?
You sure do. “Since potatoes grow in dirt, it’s important to wash them thoroughly before cooking, which helps prevent food-borne illness,” says RJ Harvey, RDN, CEC, culinary director at Potatoes USA, the national marketing and promotion board representing U.S. growers and importers.
Additionally, washing with water helps to eliminate most of the pesticide residues from the potato tubers, according to a study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
When to Wash Potatoes
Potatoes should never be washed until you’re ready to use them, because a dry environment helps maximize their shelf life. Before we dive into how to wash potatoes, let’s talk about when to wash them.
Do you wash potatoes before storing?
“I don’t wash potatoes before storing them because it could cause them to go bad faster or trigger a mold if moisture is left on them,” explains Chef Rachel Ponce, resident chef and recipe developer of Edible Magazine: San Luis Obispo. “If you want to prepare your potatoes ahead of time and store them, I recommend washing them, peeling (if peeling), and storing them in cold water with vinegar or lemon juice. This will keep the potatoes fresh and not change color.”
Do you wash potatoes before peeling?
Yes, washing potatoes before peeling them is a great way to continue to maintain cleanliness so that there isn’t any cross-contamination, says Jason Paluska, executive chef of The Lark in Santa Barbara. Otherwise, the dirt could get on your hands or your vegetable peeler and contaminate the peeled potato.
Do you wash potatoes before baking?
Always wash your potatoes before baking them. “If you bake your potato and then slice into it, your knife will spread the dirt into the center of your baked potato,” says Ponce. “And honestly, don’t you want to eat the skin smothered in an unconditional amount of sour cream and chives? You need to have cleaned the skin to enjoy that safely.”
How to Wash Potatoes the Right Way
The best practice, according to Harvey, is to scrub your potatoes with a vegetable brush under cool running water (read: do not use soap or other cleaning agents). Alternatively, fill a large sink with cool water, add the potatoes and gently scrub with a light vegetable brush—be sure to get in all the notches and crevices. “The dirt will drop to the bottom of the sink, and the potatoes can be placed in a colander until ready to use,” he says.
How gentle or aggressive you want to be while washing away the dirt depends on the type of potato you’re working with. “The softer the skin, the more delicate the potato is—so potatoes such as fingerling, red and waxy don’t need more than running water and your hands,” says Ponce. “You can always soak for 5 minutes in water if you have some stubborn dirt spots that are not coming off with your fingertips. Scrub away on those thick guys, such as russet and sweet potatoes.”