Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pesticides In Your Produce: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen


(Compiled and edited from Environmental Working Group, and Mother Nature Network)

The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)'s Shopper's Guide to Pesticides 2012 was published to help consumers make informed choices if they so choose to reduce their exposure to pesticides found and tested in produce sold in the USA. However, scientists, including the director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University, Montreal, and the US Dept of Agriculture have stated that there is no evidence that the trace residues of pesticides present in produce are harmful to human health, and that eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.

Most countries monitor residual levels of pesticides in produce, and establish legal limits for the safety of consumers. In some cases, however, these residual levels may be toxic to children, pregnant women and even pets.The US FDA maintains that consuming pesticides in low amounts is harmless, but some studies show an association between pesticides and health problems such as cancer, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and nervous system disorders and say exposure could weaken immune systems.

We at Green Living are of the opinion that the EWG Shopper's Guide can help consumers determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticides and are the most important to buy organic. By offering consumers the information needed to make a choice, consumers can choose lower their exposure to pesticides by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables (Dirty Dozen) and eating the least contaminated produce (Clean Fifteen).

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Peaches
5. Strawberries
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Spinach
9. Lettuce
10. Cucumbers
11. Blueberries (from the USA)
12. Potatoes

1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Cabbage
6. Sweet peas
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Eggplant
10. Kiwifruit
11. Cantaloupe
12. Sweet potatoes
13. Grapefruit
14. Watermelon
15. Mushrooms

Buy Organic:
Produce which is "Certified Organic" will cost more, but is your best assurance of pesticide-free status. Although the chart above is useful, it is not 100% accurate. Growing methods can change, and country-of-origin considerations make it more difficult to know exactly what you're buying. Buying organic, in-season produce from your local market is the best assurance of pesticide-free produce. If you are on a limited budget, look for organic choices for the produce your family eats the most.

Vegetable and Fruit Washes:
Commercial vegetable and fruit washes are available which are formulated to remove chemical residue from produce. You can also make your own produce wash using a solution of table salt in water.

A study done over a decade ago by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station on the removal of trace pesticide residues from produce compared non-organic produce that was either not washed at all, rinsed only in water, and washed in “FIT, Fruit & Vegetable Wash, Organiclean, Vegi-Clean, or a 1% solution of Palmolive.”

The study found there was “little or no difference between tap water rinsing or using a fruit and vegetable wash in reducing residues of the nine pesticides studied.” There was a difference between the unwashed produce and the ones that were rinsed in water or washed with a product. The unwashed produce had more pesticide residues.

So, it seems the amount of pesticides on the surface of produce can be reduced with washing. It also seems as if there is no need to spend extra money on wash products because tap water or salt water is just as effective. However, washing only removes pesticides on the surface, not pesticides that have seeped below the skin of the produce or that have been inbred in the produce from the beginning by genetically engineered (GMOs) seeds.

Peel Fruits with Higher Residue Levels:
Peeling fruits, especially peaches, pears and apples, will help remove residues. Be sure to keep the peelings out of the compost. Some pesticides permeate the skin of the fruit, so this method does not guarantee residual free produce in all cases.

Grow Your Own:
You can attempt to grow many varieties of local fruits, vegetables and herbs yourself. Tomatoes, pandanus leaves, lime, lettuce and sweet potato leaves can easily be grown in pots. Even a small balcony kitchen garden can be very productive for family use.