Getting Pesticides Off Your Produce

Getting Pesticides Off Your Produce

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their 2012 edition of the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce and along with that, a misleading recommendation to eat your fruits and vegetables no matter what their pesticide load. This is the same group known for its clever list of the “Dirty Dozen” (now Dirty Dozen Plus) and “Clean 15,” produce that are highest and lowest in pesticide residue, respectively.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 33 percent of adults meet the recommendation for fruit consumption and 27 percent get the recommended servings of vegetables. With this knowledge, the EWG may be hesitant to promote the importance of choosing organic for fear that some may opt to forgo produce entirely if they cannot afford or locate the organic varieties.

While it is important to make sure fruits and vegetables compose a significant portion of your daily diet, we cannot dismiss the fact that exposure to pesticides, herbicides and bacteria in our food system may wreck havoc on our bodies over time. Sixty-eight percent of all produce samples contain detectable pesticide residues. Within this sample, 100% of conventional nectarines and 98% of conventional apples contain some trace of pesticides, while conventional blueberries contain 42 different pesticide varieties, and conventional lettuces include 78.

Though organic produce should be free of pesticides, herbicides, etc., we cannot be 100 percent positive that cross contamination has not occurred. Your best bet is to wash any and all produce before consuming to minimize the exposure to these toxic chemicals.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), washing produce prior to chopping, peeling, and cutting will reduce the amount of bacteria or pesticides on the produce. But what is the best way to wash it? Below we list the top three.

Diluted Vinegar Solution:

According to Cook’s Illustrated, this solution successfully removes 98 percent of bacteria and the majority of surface pesticides that find their way onto produce.

-Mix one part vinegar (apple cider and white vinegar both work) with three parts distilled water.

-Soak hard-to-clean fruits and vegetables like kale, celery, and grapes in the solution until fully submerged.

-Transfer the solution to a spray bottle and spray smooth-surfaced produce like apples, tomatoes, and cucumbers with the solution.

-Whichever method you use, rinse produce with pure water and dry with a paper towel before eating.

Purified Water Method: This method simply uses fresh, pure water to remove fruits and veggies of any lingering residues. First, make sure you have access to clean, drinkable, cold water. DO NOT use detergents or soap as they may leave more toxic residue on the skins.

-Rinse the outside of thick, tough produce like carrots, potatoes, and beets, and then scrub with a brush.

-Soak fruits and veggies with high surface areas like broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach in a bowl of pure, cold water for one to two minutes, then rinse with more purified water.

-Wash delicate produce like strawberries, blueberries, and cherries with cold running water in a colander.

-Dry all produce with a clean paper towel to eliminate any remaining bacteria or pesticides.

Store-bought Fruit and Vegetable Washes: Two separate studies* have found that washing fruits and vegetables with commercial sprays like Fit® or Veggie Wash does not remove any more pesticide residues than washing produce with clean drinking water, so it is up to you whether or not to spend the extra money on a commercial produce wash.

However it’s done, washing your produce before tossing into your NutriBullet significantly minimizes the risk of contamination.


*University of Maine’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tennessee State University

Registered Dietitian

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