At first blush, the idea of washing a lemon before it's used might seem redundant. After all, they're usually squeezed to release their juice, and the juice in turn is protected by the fruit's tough rind. In truth, as with other fruit, lemons are exposed to a wide range of agricultural pesticides, bacteria and plain old dirt as they progress from the tree to your supermarket. Washing them carefully removes most of these contaminants, as well as the waxy coating that's applied to extend their shelf life.
Wash your hands scrupulously before you start or don a fresh pair of disposable kitchen gloves. Otherwise, your own hands can introduce new bacteria to the lemons.
Run your cold water tap briefly to purge any water that's been sitting in the lines. Hold your first lemon under the running water, rubbing away any visible soil with your thumb or fingers.
Brush the textured surface of the fruit's skin with a short, stiff brush, such as a toothbrush, nail brush or vegetable brush that's reserved solely for cleaning produce. Be diligent in cleaning the lemon's entire surface.
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Shake off any excess moisture, then rest the clean lemon on several layers of fresh paper towel to drain. Repeat for any additional lemons.
Dry the lemons completely with fresh paper towels, then use them immediately or place them in a food-grade bag or container for storage.
Despite the claims of their manufacturers, independent tests at several universities have shown that commercial produce cleansers are no more effective at removing soil and bacteria than plain water.
If your lemon still has its tiny "cap" at the stem end, remove it before washing. Be sure to clean carefully around and in the resulting cavity with your brush.
Clean your produce brush daily with a mild bleach solution or other food-safe sanitizer, then rinse it thoroughly before putting it away to air-dry.
Don't use household bleach or dish soap to wash lemons or other produce. Dish soap is not considered food safe, and bleach is food safe only at very low concentrations. Soap residues can cause mild discomfort or diarrhea.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.