It may come as a surprise that the brightly colored and spotlessly shiny red apples you see in the grocery store have higher levels of residual pesticides than most other fruits and vegetables — a shock factor that fuels the hype around organic produce and pesticide control. And for good reason, I might add. But, as with most things in life, there are two sides to every coin, and a delicate balance can be struck between pesticide use and food consumption. The key is vigilance around food preparation and reducing pesticide exposure in other areas of life.
A pesticide is a chemical or substance used in the prevention, destruction, and repellent of pests (like insects or mold, for example). The FDA has defined more than 1,055 different types of pesticides used in food production and household products like mosquito repellant and bathroom cleansers touting mildew killing powers.
Pesticides are undoubtedly useful to society; they kill disease-causing organisms and control weeds and insects affecting crop growth. In follows then, that the nature of pesticides is to disrupt the lifecycle of living organisms, thus posing potential risk to humans as well. The goal then, is to mitigate the risks pesticides pose to humans.
REDUCING PESTICIDE EXPOSURE
- Buy Organic: According to the FDA, produce grown without the use of conventional pesticides, is organic. Choose organic produce, meat, and dairy products whenever possible.
- Prepare Well: Start with clean utensils and cutting boards. Microorganisms present on kitchen supplies can easily transfer to produce. Discard any bruised portions of fruit and vegetables and remove the outer layer of leafy greens.
- Wash: The most highly acclaimed method for washing fresh fruit and vegetables is a solution of 2 parts water, 1 part vinegar and a follow-up water rinse, as this method effectively and safely removes dirt, bacteria, and residual pesticides, reducing the risk of foodborne illness. Since microorganisms are often present in the drain of a sink, use a large, clean bowl for soaking. After the final rinse, blot dry with a paper towel or use a salad spinner to remove excess water. For tough dirt, scrub with a produce brush. Be sure to wash the outside of melons before cutting, as bacteria present in the outer grooves can be transferred during preparation.
- Avoid Commercial Produce Washes: The FDA does not recommend use of commercial washes due to their inclusion of bleach and/or chlorine which can leave residue or permeate porous produce.
- Be Aware: Porous or grooved structures are naturally more susceptible to bacteria growth and pesticide residue. The Department of Agriculture ranks foods based on pesticide residue levels; learn more about the ranking of common foods by checking out their list!
- Think Twice: Wherever possible, cut down on harsh chemicals for cleaning and in-home pest control. Vinegar is one of the safest household cleaners available!
- Filter Your Water: Pesticides used on farmland regularly infiltrate our drinking supply. While present only in small amounts and generally thought to be safe, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and reduce pesticide consumption whenever possible.
So stock up on vinegar, get yourself a water filter, and enjoy those brightly colored, delicious fruits and veggies!