Unless you’re buying exclusively organic fruit and vegetables (and here’s why we should all be striving to), thoroughly washing the produce you buy is pretty important.
Swedish researchers recently proved that insecticides, fungicides and plant growth regulators can build up in the bodies of children and adults. Yet just a two week break from pesticide laden food sees the urinary levels of these chemicals fall to almost zero!
The scientists that carried out the study warned that we still don’t know what the long-term effects of ingesting pesticides are. They say it is particularly worrying as chemicals can cause more harm when combined in various ways than they do when taken on their own.
Here’s why we need to reduce the amount of pesticides in our food
3 Reasons To Wash Your Fruit & Veggies
For a Healthy Brain
According to a 2008 paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Bioscience, a number of pesticides are considered to be neurotoxins and can affect both mammals and humans.
One particular class of chemicals, called organophosphates, was actually developed into a toxic nerve agent during World War II.
Studies have suggested a strong association between pesticide exposure and the development of Parkinson’s Disease – a chronic and progressive movement disorder which affects around one million Americans.
To Reduce the Risk of Cancer
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, came to the conclusion that glyphosate is a ‘probable’ cancer-causing substance.
Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide worldwide and is a key ingredient in hundreds of crop-control agents and weed killers, including Bronco, KleenUp, Rodeo, Roundup and Weedoff.
Worryingly, this chemical is abundant in our environment.
In 2011, a report on the levels of glyphosate in the air and rain water of Iowa and Mississippi was published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The chemical was detected in between 60% and 100% of all air and rain samples tested.
In Europe, over 40% of Spanish groundwater samples tested positive for glyphosate.
What’s much worse is that German research found this chemical has made its way into the human body. Urine samples from people in 18 different countries across Europe showed that 44% of people have glyphosate in their systems.
This chemical has also been detected in human blood and even breast milk!
Glyphosate isn’t the only chemical linked to cancer. Based on animal studies, many pesticides are considered carcinogenic (including organochlorines, creosote, and sulfallate) while others (DDT, chlordane and lindane) are thought to be tumor promoters.
To Protect Children’s Health
As children’s systems and vital organs are still developing, they are more susceptible to toxins than adults.
In November 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned that early life exposure to pesticides is associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.
In Mexico, preschool children exposed to pesticides were found to have less stamina, worse gross and fine eye-hand coordination, worse 30-minute memory, and were less well able to draw a person than children living in other regions that weren’t exposed to the same level of toxins.
Other studies have linked parental exposure to pesticides with the occurrence of brain cancer in children.
How to Wash Pesticides Off Fruit and Vegetables
Cold Water Rinse & Scrub
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) say that 75% to 80% of pesticide reduces are removed by cold water washing.
However, fruits like grapes, apples, guava, plums, mangoes, peaches and pears and fruity vegetables like tomatoes and okra require two to three washings, as do green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.
Make sure to do a thorough job and really get into all the crevices on the fruit and vegetables where pesticides can often linger.
Studies at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station discovered that water temperature or cleaning products were not the key to removing pesticide residue – friction was! Always rub the produce back and forth with your hands or with a scrubbing brush for at least 30 seconds.
Salt Water Solution
Using a salt solution to wash your produce may remove even further residues than water alone. Mix two teaspoons of salt into four cups of warm water and stir to dissolve.
Once cooled, soak the produce for 30 to 60 minutes before rinsing and scrubbing under cold water.
This method isn’t ideal for fragile fruits like berries, which can be damaged by the soak and end up tasting of salt. For these, a simple cold water soak and rinse is best.
The vinegar soak is an alternative to salt water. If you don’t have vinegar, lemon juice will also do the trick.
Fill a large bowl with four parts water and one part vinegar. Soak your fruits and vegetables in this for 30 to 60 minutes before rinsing and scrubbing thoroughly with cold water. This process will also keep your food fresh for longer and avoid spoilage. It’s a win-win!
Homemade Fruit and Vegetable Spray
For those times you are in a hurry, this spray is the next best thing to a salt or vinegar soak.
In a glass spray bottle, mix one tablespoon of lemon juice, two tablespoons of white vinegar and one cup of water. Shake vigorously before generously spraying onto your produce.
Rub for 30 seconds by hand or with a vegetable brush and rinse thoroughly in cold water.
Peel and Trim
Peeling and trimming is probably the most effective way for reducing the amount of chemical residue on your fresh food. Of course, it’s not suitable for all produce – like those with no skin!
The CSE say that both systemic and contact pesticides on the surface of the fruits and vegetables can be removed by peeling.
You should also cut the tops and outer sections of lettuce, cabbage, celery and other leafy vegetables to remove residues and bacteria that may have settled there.
Avoid Dish Soap or Bleach
It’s best to steer clear of conventional dish soap or bleach when cleaning your produce, says the National Pesticide Information Center.
Due to the pores on the fruits and vegetables, dish soap or bleach can get trapped or absorbed by the pores and become difficult to rinse off. Using these products may actually add residues to your food!
While these natural cleaning tips will certainly help to reduce the amount of pesticides you ingest, no washing method is 100% effective for removing all pesticide residues.
The only way to ensure you aren’t being exposed to hazardous chemicals is to buy organic – which can even be done on a budget – or grow your own.