If you haven't yet seen the viral TikTok trend that shows people soaking strawberries in salt water — also known as the #strawberrychallenge — we're sorry to be the ones to show you. Essentially, people are placing strawberries in salt water to encourage the tiny bugs or fruit fly maggots living inside the fruit to emerge.
While these videos may be alarming, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that insects in some produce is an unavoidable defect that will not cause humans harm (the chart on this page doesn't list insects for strawberry defects but it does list mold, which is another story). This is simply the reality of having produce that is grown outside. The FDA adds that they do not support using pesticides as an alternative because the main purpose is to control pests that actually aim to destroy plants.
Nonetheless, is salt water actually effective when it's used to clean produce?
"It is apparent that if the consumer is concerned with various insects on their produce, washing in salt water could help 'motivate' the insects to leave," James E. Rogers, PhD, Consumer Reports' Director of Food Safety Research and Testing, tells Hunker. "If the consumer is concerned with bacteria ... Consumer Reports has advised that consumers rinse their produce at least in water, and to use a scrub brush on those products with a peel or skin. This would remove any adherent dirt … We have also advised [consumers] to consider soaking in vinegar and water."
Soaking your fruit in salt water could also have negative effects, according to Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a general practitioner and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor. "I do not believe washing your fruits in salt water will affect them more than washing them with clean water," he tells Hunker. "It may ruin the fruit itself." When asked why, Dr. Aragona states that the produce can absorb the salt water, causing you to unknowingly ingest excess salt over time. This increase in salt can then lead to an increase in your blood pressure.
However, if you do choose to wash your produce in salt water, it's important that you use the right concentration. Trista Best, a registered dietician at Balance One Supplements, tells Hunker that you should be using a 2% salt solution. Once you are done soaking the produce, make sure that you thoroughly rinse off the salt water, so that your produce doesn't taste salty.
As for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they simply recommend that you scrub your fruits and veggies under running water. That's all you need to do — along with trying not to think too much about the bugs in your fruit. It's an unfortunate truth, but won't hurt you.
Anna is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who covers lifestyle and design content for Hunker. She's written for Apartment Therapy, the L.A. Times, Forge, and more. She previously worked as the lifestyle editor at HelloGiggles and deputy editor at So Yummy. Her email: email@example.com