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The Best Ways To Wash Vegetables and Fruits (Produce)

STORY AT-A-GLANCE:

  • Pesticides applied to fruits and vegetables in the U.S., as well as in other countries, pose a serious health hazard for people buying such plant-based foods
  • Studies show pesticides can cause brain damage, impair your nervous system, disrupt your hormones and even cause cancer — and it’s worse for children
  • Washing fruits and veggies by rubbing them while holding them under running water helps rid them of contaminants from the soil, handling and pesticides, but a vinegar solution is also helpful
  • Phenoxy herbicides, as well as several insecticides, have been linked to three types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and developmental and reproductive problems, and glyphosates can damage multiple areas of your body

If you’ve heard or read anything about the pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables, you’re probably diligent about making sure the produce you purchase gets cleaned before you eat it. Interestingly, while some people assume it’s best to stay away from imported produce, it’s entirely possible that the domestically-grown offerings might be even worse, according to a University of California study.1

Growing your own fruits and vegetables may preempt the necessity of attempting to wash off pesticides if you’re going the organic route, but not everyone is equipped to do that. Supermarkets and farmers markets may offer organic options, but in some areas of the U.S., organic options are few and far between.

However, it’s important to note that even produce labeled “organic,” including offerings from growers who are 100 percent reputable, doesn’t guarantee that pesticide residue hasn’t made contact with the fruits, veggies and herbs you take home, according to a “large, high-quality U.S. Department of Agriculture database” report.2

Nutrition Facts reveals that pesticide residues can arguably be detected in about 10 percent of any given crop from organic fields,3 a ratio suggested from tested samples, due to three main problems:

  • Cross-contamination from neighboring fields
  • Decades-old DDT residue still contaminating soil
  • Persistent, accidental or fraudulent use of DDT

Fortunately, there are sources available that list which foods are better than others when it comes to potential toxic load. One of the best is the “Clean 15” list,4 annually submitted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to inform consumers which plant-based foods to go for.

Then there’s the “Dirty Dozen” list on the opposite end of the spectrum, listing the 12 foods most likely to have been sprayed or grown in contaminated soil. Because the agricultural spectrum is changing rapidly, it’s best to check for changes that might have been made to the list, as some switch back and forth between lists, or are added.

What Pesticides Should You Be Concerned About?

While innumerable farmers, gardeners, producers, grocery stores and consumers believe spraying crops with synthetic pesticides is necessary to rid crops of weeds and insects that slow production, mar the perceived perfection of fruits and vegetables and lower the bottom (monetary) line, there are far higher costs to consider.

  • Phenoxy herbicides have been linked to three distinct types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), as well as developmental and reproductive problems
  • Carbamate insecticides, organophosphorus insecticides, and the active ingredient lindane, an organochlorine insecticide, were also positively associated with NHL
  • Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the world, has been linked to systemic toxicity, disruption of your microbiome, mineral deficiencies and increased cancer risk5

Genetically engineered (GE) foods are another reason why buying organic produce is smart. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup (the same company that produced the Vietnam-era forest defoliant, Agent Orange), is particularly detrimental to your health.

But don’t give up eating fresh fruits and vegetables because you’re afraid of chemical sprays. Here’s why: A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology recently reported that ingesting just under 3.5 cups (800 grams) of fruit and vegetables daily significantly reduces your risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and an early death.6 And there are remedies to the problem of pesticides.

Can All Organic Produce Be Trusted?

If it sounds like it’s anybody’s guess what the produce you buy has been through from farm to table, and that there’s little you can do to remedy a problem that has spun crazily out of control, that’s not the case. Nutrition Facts explains:

“By choosing organic, one hopes to shift exposures from a range of uncertain risk to more of a range of negligible risk, but even if all we had to eat were the most pesticide-laden of conventional produce, there is a clear consensus in the scientific community that the health benefits from consuming fruits and vegetables outweigh any potential risks from pesticide residues.”7

As scary as all this may sound, experts in the field (pun intended) maintain that consumers can reduce risks involved with eating such produce by rinsing it beforehand under clean running water.

Organic food sales in the U.S. were projected to exceed the $35 billion mark — more than 4 percent of total food sales — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and that was back in 2014. Further, farmers markets in the U.S. grew from 1,755 markets to 8,144 between 1994 and 2013.8

That’s an indication that more and more people are getting the message that paying closer attention to what they’re eating is crucial for optimal health.

How Effective Are Veggie Wash Products?

Because so many people are just not sure what’s OK to eat and what isn’t, several companies have stepped up with solutions — literal ones — touted to swish or spritz your fruits and veggies clean so you can eat them without worrying what you might be subjecting your body to.

Procter & Gamble recently came out with a fruit and vegetable wash touted to be 98 percent better at ridding foods of pesticide residue than using water alone. TGI Fridays got on the bandwagon and printed menus recommending their potato skins with cheese and bacon because they’d been washed with the new product.

Then scientists tested the effectiveness of the product and found it to be no better than plain old tap water.9 But while P&G took their product off the market, other companies raised the torch, claiming their produce rinses to be three, five and even 10 times more effective than using water alone.

But researchers observed the above odds to be mathematically impossible, because if water moves 50 percent of the toxins, they can’t remove 10 times more than that. According to one study,10 water alone removed up to 80 percent of pesticide residue. In fact, according to Nutrition Facts:

“FIT Fruit & Vegetable Wash, Organiclean, Vegi-Clean and dishwashing soap [were compared] to just rinsing in plain tap water. [One hundred ninety-six] samples of lettuce, strawberries and tomatoes were tested, and researchers found little or no difference between just rinsing with tap water compared to any of the veggie washes (or the dish soap).”

Green Cleaning Machine Magazine reports:

“The results revealed that 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.’ Still, there was a difference between the unwashed produce and the produce that was rinsed in water or washed with a product — the unwashed produce had more pesticide residue.”11

The Government Wouldn’t ‘OK’ Something That’s Bad for You, Right?

To help you make the best decisions for your family in this area of health, EWG submits five facts about pesticides12 that you should know:

1.Pesticides on the food you eat are harmful and especially bad for children. Scientists aren’t even sure how damaging some of the chemicals are that are regularly sprayed on produce, but research shows they can cause brain damage, impair your nervous system, disrupt your hormones and even cause cancer.

Additional studies show these substances can impair children’s memory and learning skills, cut their attention span and contribute to neurological problems. What’s worse is that kids consume more relative to their size, leading to greater exposure, and their bodies are less equipped to process them.

2.Some plant-based foods carry some toxins; others carry a boat load. USDA data analyzed by EWG in 2014 found traces of at least one pesticide on 75 percent of the fruit and vegetable samples they tested.

3.There’s more than one way to protect yourself against pesticide-laced produce. First, try to buy USDA certified organic varieties as often as possible. For instance, try to buy organic strawberries and apples, because those two carry the highest pesticide loads.

Another smart way is to use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,13 which offers a version of the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists for your cellphone, computer or tablet, as well as updates and action alerts.

4.Washing your produce helps, but it won’t remove every trace of pesticides. There are other factors to consider, though: Plain old dirt, as well as whatever contaminations may be present due to “processing and handling,” is something else to consider. The bottom line: Washing produce helps — a lot.

5.Regardless of the reports that harmful pesticides and other germs might be present, it’s always best to provide plenty of produce for your family to eat, as it still represents the best way to provide them with healthy nutrition, even if it’s conventionally grown.

Bottom Line on Clean Produce: Vinegar

Say you’re on a camping trip or someone supplies grapes and strawberries for your child’s third grade class party. Don’t panic! Simply rinsing your fruits and vegetables under running water is better than nothing.

Washing your produce with white vinegar is another option that will help ensure the cleanest food possible in nearly every situation. So, when you buy cherries, spinach, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumbers and other produce now listed on the most-contaminated fruits and vegetables list, even if they’ve been grown organically, try this method:

  1. Fill a large bowl with four parts water to one part white (not apple cider) vinegar.
  2. Soak the produce in the mixture for 20 minutes.
  3. Rinse the fruit or vegetables in clean, running water.

It’s that simple. Happy Healthy Mama says:

“This natural vinegar wash is a great solution … when buying organic produce isn’t possible. Even if you have organic produce, this method of cleaning your produce is great since even organic farmers use (natural) pesticides and you get the added benefit of removing bacteria that could make you sick.”14

Again, this method won’t remove every particle of pesticide residue, but it will eliminate a lot of it, along with bacteria that might be present. Don’t worry about the foods tasting like vinegar, because they don’t.

Especially if they’re on the “not safe” list, continue to choose organic foods as often as you can. Foods on the “safe” list, such as cauliflower, onions, asparagus and avocado, should at least be rinsed. Be aware, too, that foods with peelings you won’t eat, such as pineapple, kiwi and honeydew melons, may contaminate the fruit if you cut into them without washing the outside, so be sure to run them under water beforehand, if possible.

Sources and References:

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