What got me thinking about ways to wash produce is the E.coli outbreak in Germany which as of this writing has killed 24, sickened 2400 and left many of those with permanent kidney damage. The source is supposedly produce, but they still haven't determined which produce.
I've learned a lot about E.coli following this story. Here are some things I didn't know before:
1. Everyone has hundreds of types of E.coli in his/her digestive tract. You're not born with E.coli, but it gets there within the first 40 hours of life.
2. All mammals have E.coli in their digestive tracts. So do birds. Different animals have some different E.coli and some E.coli is common to all.
3. Most E. coli are harmless, many are beneficial. But there are 6 deadly ones (maybe 7 if they count the German one as a new one... they haven't decided that yet). These are called STECs (but I forget why).
4. Because E.coli lives in the digestive tract, mostly in the large intestine, it is spread through feces. That means if it's in your food your food had contact with feces. The feces might have been in the field, in the water used to wash the food, or on the hands of the food's handler. (Ever notice those signs in restaurant bathrooms saying employees are REQUIRED to wash their hands?)
5. E.coli is not spread by coughs and sneezes.
6. Heat kills E. coli. There's a lot of it on meat (particularly hamburger), so that's why you want to cook it well. Washing works for produce.
7. If you get sick from food, there's no point going to the doctor unless you have bloody diarrhea. You're not supposed to take antibiotics, so there's not much a doctor can do except tell you to rest and drink fluids to flush the E.coli from your system. But once you've reached the bloody diarrhea stage you should be in the hospital and isolated from other people because that's when the thing can easily get out of hand and start spreading to family members, etc. and you'll need to have your fluids replaced via IV.
8. One of the strongest arguments against factory farmed animals is that they must be fed antibiotics because they are in such close quarters that it's impossible to keep them from being contaminated by feces. The antibiotics cause strains of E.coli to mutate into antibiotic resistant E.coli. It's an antibiotic resistant type of E.coli that's making people sick in Germany.
Of course E.coli is not the only reason to wash produce well. There are many other types of germs, not to mention pesticides and herbicides. But no matter how well you wash your food, remember, you are probably not doing a better job than my sister-in-law.