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How to Remove Pesticide Residue from Fruits and Vegetables


April_Blog_washed_2015-4Fresh produce in American grocery stores contains residual amounts of pesticides, which may include insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and agricultural chemicals. Even organic food can harbor fertilizer residue, and both organic and nonorganic produce can be contaminated with microorganisms from soil or animal manure.

The FDA, the EPA, and the US Department of Agriculture share responsibility for ensuring pesticide residue is not present in excess levels. The government organizations do not believe the level of pesticide residue permitted on produce is harmful to human health, but some studies link low-level ingestion of pesticides to cancer, ADHD symptoms, nervous system disorders, and weakened immune systems. No long-term studies exist yet, so it’s impossible to say exactly what health risks we’re exposing ourselves to through pesticide residue.

Grocery stores themselves rarely wash produce before putting it on display. The misting systems in the produce aisle are there to keep fruits and vegetables fresh. The mist might wash off some residue, but you can’t count on that.

High-Risk / Low-Risk Produce

According to the Environmental Working Group, the following “dirty dozen” of nonorganic produce are most likely to contain high levels of pesticide residue—so much so you can reduce your pesticide exposure by up to 80% by switching to organic alternatives:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Domestic blueberries
  • Imported grapes
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach / Kale / Collard greens
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet bell peppers

On the other hand, produce with strong outer layers have little to no pesticide residue when peeled or husked. Dubbed the “clean fifteen” by the EWG, such produce includes:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage (discard outer layers)
  • Cantaloupe
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Onions
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet onions
  • Sweet peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon

Removing Pesticide Residue

All fresh produce should be washed in filtered water. Not only does this help remove pesticide residue, washing also helps remove bacteria-containing dirt and other impurities. Using filtered water prevents further contamination from the microorganisms or chemicals which all too often slip past public water treatment facilities.

Wash with large amounts of water—choose hot or cold depending on the delicacy of the produce. Hot water’s appropriate for scrubbing potatoes, but will wilt butter lettuce, which needs cold water to keep its leaves nice and crisp. Scrub with a clean brush for hard skinned produce. Delicate produce can be soaked. Whether you’re scrubbing or soaking, rinse with plenty of filtered water and never use soap.

Pesticide residue can also accumulate in animal fat. Trim the fat from meat and remove both skin and fat from chicken.

Buy organic when possible, wash all produce in filtered water, and you’ll minimize your exposure to pesticides and other food contaminants. A Pelican under-counter/countertop or whole house water filter will provide safer, cleaner water right from the kitchen tap to effectively clean fruits and veggies.

Disclaimer: The information on this website has not been reviewed by the FDA. Products offered for sale herein are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease or health condition. No medical claims are being made or implied. Contaminants mentioned are not necessarily in your water.

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