pesticides in food

Modern agriculture uses more and more pesticides on fruits and vegetables to make their production more lucrative. That’s good news for modern farmers but bad news for your health. You can still do something about it!  Lower your pesticide intake significantly by preparing your food the right way. How important this issue is has shown a study that analyzed kids exposure to contaminants in California. Shockingly all kids had exceeded cancer benchmark levels for arsenic, dieldrin, DDT, and dioxins. It seems that organically grown vegetables are the safest option if you want to avoid pesticides in food. The only problem is that organic fruit and vegetables are not available to everyone. They are more expensive than non-organic food and also not always obtainable everywhere.

Still, if you want to reduce the intake of pesticides but can’t afford organic produce all the time and don’t have the time to grow your own veggies there are still things you can do at home to effectively lower your pesticides intake.

Scientist say wash your fruit and vegetables with salt or vinegar

washing tomatoes

The most important thing you can do to lower the number of pesticides on your food is to wash them thoroughly. It is not unusual for foods to be sprayed with several different pesticides before harvest. The problem is that water alone is not going to get rid of all pesticides residue. The first pesticides that were used in the fields were washed away with rain which made it expensive and time-consuming for the farmers to apply. That’s why scientists have engineered pesticides that will stick on the produce even under rain and harsh weather conditions. Again this is good news for the farmers but bad news for the consumers since you can’t simply wash away the many pesticides with water.

On the other hand, studies have been done to test different washes that can get rid of the pesticide residue. There even exist commercial washes that claim to be very efficient in washing fruit and vegetables, but a study comparing the effects of those commercial washes to simple rinsing with water alone hasn’t found those washes to be more effective in reducing pesticides residue.  What has been proved to be effective for pesticide removal in home condition are simple washes like these:

  • Vinegar wash
    Soaking your fruits and vegetables in a solution of 10% vinegar and 90% water has shown to be effective to reduce pesticides residue up to 80%. You can use simple white vinegar and soak produce for about 5 minutes. Soaking for 5 minutes can get rid of most of the pollutants. Use a clean bucket when soaking, since the sink is full of bacteria and you don’t want those on your food as well.
  • Salt wash
    Amazingly a 10% salt wash was found to be as effective as the vinegar wash. Use simple table salt and soak for 5 minutes. Rinse afterward under flowing water. Don’t use the vinegar and salt wash on delicate food like berries since the wash can penetrate their pores and change their taste.
  • Vinegar-Lemon-Baking soda wash
    I couldn’t find a study that used this wash but it is often recommended by many health professionals. All these ingredients separately have been found to be effective for pesticide removal, that’s why I call this the all-in-one wash. It covers both the benefits of acidic and alkaline solutions for removing pesticides from food.Simply mix together:
    – 1 cup of white vinegar,
    – 1 cup of water,
    – juice of half a lemon
    – 1 tablespoon of baking powder.Use this mixture to soak your fruit and vegetables or simply spray it on the produce with a spray bottle. Leave it on the food for about 5 minutes and then rinse under running water.

soaking fruit and vegatbles

In the absence of serious studies about the health effects, long term pesticide intake has on humans, lowering your exposure to pesticides as much as possible is the smart thing to do. These washes can significantly lower your pesticide intake. Since many of the used pesticides are known to be carcinogenic I believe it’s worth taking this little extra effort for your health.

More ways to reduce pesticides intake

In addition to washing your fruits and vegetables there are some additional steps you can take to minimize pesticide exposure:

  • Remove outer layer of vegetables when possible (salads, onion, kale, cabbage, ..)
  • Peel fruits and vegetables when possible. Fruit and Vegetables like apples, pears, peaches, cucumber, zucchini pumpkin, potatoes and others can be peeled which gets rid of the pesticides. Don’t forget to wash the food  afterwards under running water to avoid cross-contamination
  • Dry fruits and vegetables, if you wish, after washing with a clean paper towel and throw it away afterward
  • Scrub fruits and vegetables with firm outer layers that won’t be peeled under running water. Try this with melons, lemons, limes, avocado, …

Know the best and the worst foods

dirty dozen list

There are fruits and vegetables that are treated with more pesticides than other. Each year the EWG analyzes pesticide residue data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration to come up with rankings for popular fresh produce items. You can check out the whole list showing the produce with the most and the least pesticides residue. For years apples, peaches, strawberries, celery, cucumber, spinach and cherry tomatoes are among the 10 most polluted products.

clen fifteen list

With the simple washes listed above, you can significantly decrease the number of pesticides that are sprayed on the food you eat. Still, there is a new generation of pesticides called systemic pesticides that can’t be washed away since they are inside the fruit itself. That’s why buying organic is the safest thing to do and if you can’t always buy organic fruit and vegetables the above suggestions will help you to minimize your pesticide exposure which is an important step to take. Simply buy organic when you can and use the above washes and suggestions if your eating non-organic fruits and vegetables.

Photo credit: Harvest time: local farmers sell organic produce at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, Tomatoes