There has been much discussion and extensive research carried out on this subject recently, and quite rightly so, with pesticides being very dangerous and toxic, and used on our everyday produce extensively.
The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) ranking of produce that is produced with the highest pesticide load has become known as the Dirty Dozen. Apparently conventional strawberries top the Dirty Dozen™ list of EWG’s 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, displacing apples, which headed the list for the last five years running.
Almost 98% of all those tested had detectable pesticide residues. Forty percent had residues of 10 or more, and some had residues of 17 different pesticides. Some of the chemicals detected on strawberries are relatively harmless, but others have been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.
Strawberries were once a seasonal fruit, but heavy use of pesticides has increased yield and stretched the growing season. For example, in California, where most U.S. strawberries are grown, each acre is treated with an alarming 300 pounds of pesticides.
This is made up of at least 60 pounds of conventional chemicals that may leave post-harvest residues but most are fumigants—volatile poison gases that can drift into nearby schools and neighbourhoods.
It is frightening to see how heavily strawberries are contaminated with residues of hazardous pesticides, but even more shocking is that these residues are allowed under the U.S. laws and regulations on pesticides in food. The EPA’s levels really should be updated to reflect new research that shows even very small doses of toxic chemicals can be harmful, particularly for young children.
Parents concerned about lowering their children’s exposure to pesticides but still feeding them plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables can buy organic fruit and vegetables, which although more expensive in most cases, will ensure that they are pesticide free at least.
There is genuine cause for concern though as recent studies of insecticides used on some fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, found that children exposed to high levels were at greater risk of impaired intelligence and ADHD.
The Dirty Dozen lists the fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated by multiple pesticides and which have higher concentrations of pesticides. More than 98 percent of strawberries, peaches, nectarines and apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce. (1)
Avocados, on the other hand, remained atop EWG’s Clean Fifteen™ list with less than one percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen tested positive for more than four types of pesticides and very few for more than one.
For those fruit and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list, it is recommended to buy the organic versions in order to avoid pesticides in your food. It is safe to assume that conventionally grown fruits and veggies on the Clean Fifteen list have very little pesticide contamination.
The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated every year since 2004, ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables.
EWG’s analysis is based on results of more than 35,200 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. This year’s update found a total of 146 different pesticides on fruit and vegetable samples tested in 2014—residues that remain on produce even after items are washed and in some cases peeled. (1)
Here are this year’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen rankings:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (Frozen)
- Honeydew Melon
So, the best advice here is to buy organic fruit and vegetables wherever possible, especially for items listed on the Dirty Dozen list. Other precautions such as washing and peeling fruits will help, but does not guarantee eradicating all traces of pesticide.
Growing your own is always an option if you have the space, but overall, take care, buy organic and wash and peel carefully.
A 10% vinegar, 90% water solution can help remove any remaining pesticides, as can a short blanch in hot water for vegetables. Careful peeling where possible can also help. (2)(3)