To Market, To Market: Distinfecting and Eating Fresh Food in Mexico

Probably one of the most fun things to do living here in Oaxaca, or anywhere else in Mexico for that matter, is shopping for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the local markets.

It’s easy to get carried away: A dozen mandarin oranges for 10 pesos. A huge papaya, ripe and ready to eat, 20 pesos. A bunch of 8 bananas from Chiapas, 18 pesos. Squash from the vine, 7 pesos. A perfect cabbage, 10 pesos. Eight large Roma tomatoes, 12 pesos. Melon, otherwise known as cantaloupe north of the border, is 37 pesos. A perfect bright orange sweet pepper is 8 pesos.

For example, today’s exchange rate is almost 19 MXN pesos to $1 USD at the ATM. I can eat for about $35 USD a week here if I don’t eat out. That leaves a lot more for handmade huipiles!

I don’t live in Mexico because of the prices or the great food. I live here because of the culture, history, art and generosity of the people. But, the prices are a bonus!

Teotitlan del Valle market produce

Too many times, I return from the market with a shopping cart-full of fresh fruit and vegetables. After about two-hours of making my way down the aisles and through the stands and getting my bags into the house, I know this is just the beginning!

It will take me another chunk of time to process the food. I don’t mean using the food processor! I mean, sorting, separating, disinfecting and storing what I have bought. Nothing goes in the refrigerator without being disinfected.

Living here requires food sanitation diligence. If one errs on the side of cutting corners, the digestive system will rebel and cause permanent disruption of the intestinal tract, often requiring strong antibiotics and visits to a gastroenterologist. None of us wants that, so we disinfect.

I use a product called Microdyne. The instructions call for using from one to fifteen drops, depending on what needs disinfecting. I use the maximum: 15 drops for 1 liter of water to clean fruit and veggies, letting them soak for 30 minutes. Depending on what I’ve bought, like fresh lettuce or chard or cabbage, I will rinse the sand and dirt off the leaves first before the Microdyne soak.

All the fruit and vegetables need to be completely covered in water. If not, then you need to turn them to make sure the other side has soaked, too.

As you can see, all this could take the better part of a morning! I want you to know that I don’t spend all my time going shopping for textiles or ceramics out and about in Oaxaca! I go food shopping several times a week because fresh food matters.

Here’s what they say in and around Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about disinfecting, too.

Most of us prefer to eat food we buy from our local markets. We know that it is probably organic. Here, in Teotitlan del Valle, the fields are fertilized with cow manure, and that means we need to pay special attention to sanitizing what is grown locally.

I will often ask in restaurants if they disinfect their salads, fruits and veggies. Of course we do, they say. I know restaurants that buy pre-packaged and pre-washed lettuce to serve to customers. I suppose it’s okay but who knows. I trust the salad I make at home.

A papaya big enough to last a week!

If you are visiting, what to do? What to eat? You are safe with cooked vegetables, grilled and roasted meats, baked potatoes, rice, and any fruits that you can peel. In restaurants, I will often order verduras al vapor, steamed vegetables that have been completely cooked. I will also order a glass of water from the large purified bottle of water — un vaso de agua de garrafon — that is used in the kitchen for food prep instead of buying a small bottle of water that adds on to the cost of a meal and the world’s carbon footprint.

13 responses to “To Market, To Market: Distinfecting and Eating Fresh Food in Mexico

  1. Hi Norma, i am a big fan! I am leaving for my first trip to Mexico, specifically Oaxaca in early December (I was invited to a Mixteca family wedding!) I am 58 years old and travelling alone until i arrive in Oaxaca. My question is this…i have a 10 hour layover in Mexico City – during the night hours. Do you have any words of wisdom as to comfort, safety, food…thank you Norma!!

    • Thanks, Teresa. I suggest, so you won’t be totally exhausted, that you splurge and check in to the Camino Real at the airport, have a nice dinner and try to go to sleep or at least get some rest. That’s what I would do. There is no place to really stretch out unless you go to an airport lounge and pay a fee to enter. Even so?! How lucky for you — a Mixteca family wedding. Enjoy!

  2. Vinegar and purified water is my preferred cleansing for fruits and veggies! With a 50/50 solution, the disinfection only takes 30 seconds to one minute! And you are disinfecting with a food item instead of a chemical!

    • Interesting! Thank you!

      Our mom was religious about santitizing fruits and vegetables in vinegar water growing up in Southern California in the 50’s and 60’s. We thought she was nuts. Turns out, she was ahead of her time. Have you research if vinegar kills disease carried by animal excrement from the growing fields?

      I just went online to find out: vinegar is NOT approved by the CDC as an effective disinfectant for bacteria borne illness. Grandma wasn’t right!

  3. Have used regular old clorox to disinfect fruits and vegetables since my housekeeper in Egypt told me about it. Since then, I have used in in other parts of Mexico as well as here in Oaxaca. We have never been sick so I will continue to use this method. It is easily available and easy to use. I use a capful to a large bowl of water. Give it a try.

    • Thanks, again, Sally.

      Curiously, I just asked my housekeeper in this moment if she uses Chloro to disinfect fruit and vegetables. She says no. She uses lime juice and salt. She doesn’t use Microdyne either. She says the acid in the lime juice is sufficient. Vamos a ver. Perhaps her digestive system is accustomed to this treatment since childhood. Not sure about whether this would be good for me! In the end, we all do what works best for us. They say our guts are very individualized — a biogenome in an of itself.

      P.S. Readers: Lime Juice and Salt will not kill bacteria such as salmonella and ecoli. Another home remedy myth debunked.

  4. I learned to use regular clorox to disenfect fruit and vegetables when I lived in Egypt. Have used it living in other parts of Mexico as well as here in Oaxaca. Always available and have never been sick. I use a little less than a capsule with a large pot of water for 15 minutes. This has treated me well over many years.

  5. Microdyne is on my list to bring UP to el norte in December. Alas, no guarantees on food safety up there, anymore. ;-(

  6. Good info on food sanitation. As a registered dietitian, I have preached about food safety to fellow travelers in Mexico, a favorite country of mine. Despite this, I got really sick one time in Oaxaca, a city I also love.

    Yesterday, here in a California I went to a Mexican art show and there was a guy there who lives near you in Oaxaca selling woven rugs. I forgot his name… I asked if he knew you as I have been reading your newsletters due to my interest in Oaxaca. He did!

    • Hi Deborah, thanks for the comment. I’m sorry you got sick in Oaxaca. It happens for many reasons, I’ve read. It’s a real problem with sustained sickness!

      Gee, I wonder who you met? It could have been any number of people I know who live in California with Teotitlan connections or who travel to California from Teotitlan to sell rugs. We have a very prolific and talented village of weavers!

  7. Good information!

    Our shared cena a su casa fue muy deliciosa!

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