Confusion, confusion everywhere! I set out to write an article about how to minimize exposure to pesticides, bacteria and other bad stuff found on fresh fruits and vegetables. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Instead I found conflicting information about how to minimize the risk.
- Use detergent; don’t use detergent.
- Just use water; don’t just use water.
- Eat these and not these.
- You shouldn’t eat these but you need them for balanced nutrition.
WHAT TO DO??????!!!!!!!!
So I decided to give you the information and let you decide for yourself.
What We Know
1. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) says these fruits and vegetables are best purchased organic because they are treated with pesticides and tend to absorb the pesticides:
Sweet bell peppers
Green beans (contain pesticide residues)
Kale/Greens (contain pesticide residues)
2. The EWG says these fruits and vegetables don’t have to be organic because they are very low in pesticides:
3. If you’re peeling a fruit or vegetable, you should wash your hands and wash the produce before peeling because pesticides and bacteria can be transferred as you’re peeling.
4. Some fruits and vegetables are also “waxed”. The wax finish improves shelf life and appearance but also locks in any previously applied pesticides.
Waxes do not readily dissolve in detergent so the best approach is to peel the produce. Waxed produce include apples, pears, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and sometimes tomatoes. One way to tell if a fruit or vegetable is waxed is to run your fingernail over it and see if you scrape anything off.
5. Agricultural pesticides do not come off with water alone or farmers wouldn’t use them.
6. The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.
7. Eat only the inner layers of produce that you won’t be cooking, such as lettuce and other salad vegetables (including onions). Discard the outer layers, as these will have more pesticides. Assume the outside layer of any fruit or vegetable will have absorbed most of the pesticides (though some will have also have been absorbed from the soil), and wash/peel or discard these outer layers whenever possible.
8. Some fruits and vegetables don’t keep well after being washed. If that’s the case, wait to wash until you’re ready to eat it.
9. Consuming pesticides is bad for your health.
10. Cooking helps reduce some of the pesticide residues in food that are not removable by washing or peeling.
What Others Say About Washing Produce
All the research confirms that pesticides and bacteria are on fresh fruits and vegetables and that all produce should be treated in some manner before eating. (Some groups even recommend washing the pre-washed produce.) And that’s where the conflict comes in. Everyone, including the experts, seemed to have different views about how that should be done. For example:
National Institutes of Health: Peel hard-skinned produce, or rinse it with lots of warm water mixed with salt and lemon juice or vinegar.
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station: (1) At a minimum, rinse all fresh produce under tap water for at least thirty seconds. (2) The mechanical action of rubbing the produce under tap water is likely responsible for removing pesticide residues. Mild detergents or fruit and vegetable washes do not enhance the removal of pesticide residues from produce above that of rinsing with tap water alone.
FDA: Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
Suite101.com (and lots of others): Agricultural pesticides do not come off with water alone (or farmers would not use them).
So you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Common Methods for Washing Produce
Liquid Soap: Just adding dish washing soap to water and generously swishing the fruit or vegetables around for a couple of minutes can often lift off much of the pesticide residue. (You can test this by dipping organic grapes in water, and comparing this with dipping pesticide-laden grapes in water, and then in soapy water. The pesticide content is immediately obvious.)
Vinegar/Water: Keep a bottle of vinegar with a spray-top. Spray the fruit or vegetables with vinegar, then rinse under a tap. If you have extra time, leave the fruits or vegetables soaking for 10–20 minutes in a vinegar/water solution, then rinse.
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of baking soda, 1 cup water. Put the mixture in a spray-topped bottle. Spray the fruit or vegetables, leave to sit for 5–10 minutes, then rinse well.
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons white vinegar (distilled works best), 1 cup water in a spray-topped bottle. Spray the fruit or vegetables, wipe and eat.
For waxy fruit or vegetables, try this mixture: 1 cup water, half a cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon baking soda and dash of grapefruit seed extract. Spray this onto the produce and leave for an hour before rinsing and eating.
Distilled Water/Lemon Juice: Fill your kitchen sink with enough distilled water to cover the fruits and vegetables you want to wash. Add 4 tablespoons of salt to the distilled water. Squeeze half a lemon over the water until there’s no more juice. Stir the ingredients together. Remove any stickers from your produce. Set the fruits and vegetables in your homemade produce wash, and let them sit for 20 minutes. Scrub the skins of the fruits and vegetables with a soft-bristle brush just before you take them out of the water, then rinse with more distilled water.
White Vinegar/Water: Wash all fruits and vegetables when you get home from the store so they’re ready when you need them. Fill a spray bottle with one part white vinegar and three parts water. This will be your produce wash. Spray each piece of produce with vinegar water to coat them and then scrub down the produce quickly and thoroughly with a vegetable brush. Rinse all the produce thoroughly with water and pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels.
If you don’t want to make your own produce wash, you can also buy pre-made washes at most grocery stores or discount stores.
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