How to Remove Pesticides from Fruits & Vegetables

Can you wash off pesticides? Not always. However, you can reduce how you much you ingest...and every little bit counts. Here's how to clean fruits and vegetables of pesticide residue.

Eat well, feel well.

Fresh produce often stands out for its nutritional value…not to mention its deliciousness. The vibrant colors and varied textures of fruits and vegetables not only entice the palate but also offer a plethora of vitamins and minerals essential for our well-being. However, the path to bringing these nourishing foods from farm to table frequently involves the use of pesticides. While designed to protect crops from pests and diseases, many pesticides pose significant environmental and health hazards. They include endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that are linked to a range of serious health issues, such as fertility problems, obesity, and cancer. So, what can we do about pesticides in our food? Here are some tips for cleaning pesticides off fruits and vegetables. 

Why Are Pesticides Used in Farming?

Pesticides are employed in conventional farming practices primarily for their ability to combat a wide variety of agricultural pests, including insects, weeds, fungi, and rodents. Their use is aimed at maximizing crop yields and ensuring a stable, visually appealing, and marketable produce supply. 

From herbicides that clear fields of invasive weeds to insecticides that ward off damaging bugs, pesticides play a crucial role in the global food production system. Yet, their application is not without consequences, affecting more than just the targeted pests.

Environmental Harms of Pesticides

The impact of pesticides on the environment extends far beyond their intended targets. These chemicals can leach into soil and waterways, disrupting ecosystems and harming wildlife. Pesticide runoff can lead to the pollution of rivers and lakes, contributing to issues like algal blooms that deplete oxygen levels and threaten aquatic life. 

Furthermore, the wind can carry pesticides to other local areas, contaminating both natural habitats and organic farms. That’s right, even food grown on organic farms may have traceable levels of pesticide residues [1].  

Pesticides and Human Health

If pesticides are used to grow fruits and vegetables, these foods may absorb the pesticide chemicals from the soil [2]. Therefore, these harmful chemicals can infiltrate the foods beyond their peels and exteriors. 

The chemicals found in pesticides can have profound impacts on human health. Glyphosate is a common pesticide chemical used in RoundIp. It has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, and yet it is still sold in stores and used widely [3]. 

Phthalates are also commonly found in pesticides. They are plasticizers used in fragrances that are used to shield the aromas of chemical pesticides [4]. Exposure to phthalates has been linked to hormonal disruptions and reproductive health issues [5]. 

The presence of these and other hazardous substances in our food supply raises concerns about the long-term effects of repeated, low-level pesticide exposure. Consume with caution. Eat organic foods as much as possible, and be vigilant about cleaning your produce thoroughly. 

How to Wash Food for Pesticides

When it comes to making healthier lifestyle choices, every little bit counts. Limit your exposure to pesticides by taking the necessary precautions when prepping your foods.

It all begins with adopting effective washing techniques. Let’s take a look!

Baking Soda and Water

Rub a dub dub and give your produce a scrub. Make a solution in a large bowl by dissolving 1 teaspoon of baking soda into 2 cups of water. 

Submerge your produce in this mixture for about 12-15 minutes before conducting a thorough rinse. Then, it’s time to exfoliate!

The baking soda solution creates a gentle yet powerful cleansing scrub for your fruits and vegetables. Use a vegetable brush made of plant fibers to rub off any excess residue.

Vinegar and Water

Alternatively, a vinegar-water mixture can serve as another potent cleaning agent. Combine 1 cup of white vinegar with 3 cups of water in a large bowl. Allow your food to soak for 12-15 minutes.

While we love vinegar for cleaning, it's important to be mindful of the potential for a vinegar aftertaste. This could slightly alter the natural flavor of your produce. 

Peel Your Foods

For produce with firmer textures, such as apples or potatoes, employ a vegetable brush during the rinsing process. This can provide an added layer of thoroughness. Gently scrubbing under running water helps dislodge pesticide residues that might stubbornly cling to the surface, ensuring a cleaner final product.

Do Pesticides Stay on Produce After Washing?

Limiting your exposure to pesticides can be beneficial for your preventative healthcare. However, despite these efforts to scrub pesticides off of produce, some pesticides penetrate beyond the surface. 

Therefore, while these washing techniques can significantly reduce surface pesticide residues, they may not entirely remove those that have been absorbed into the produce.

Remember, the goal is to reduce your exposures. So, even though pesticides may contaminate the food, you should still clean it thoroughly to support better health.

When possible, shop organic. Organic farming practices don’t use synthetic pesticides, thereby reducing the likelihood of such contaminants in your food. 

By integrating these washing techniques and consciously choosing organic options when possible, we can take proactive steps toward minimizing our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Remember, each small action we take in preparing our food safely can have a substantial impact on our overall well-being.

Organic Can Be Expensive, What Should I Do?

The higher cost of organic produce can be prohibitive for many consumers, leading to concerns about how to minimize pesticide exposure without breaking the bank. Start by making small changes. 

Prioritize buying organic versions of the "Dirty Dozen," a list published annually by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This list identifies the produce with the highest pesticide residues. 

Conversely, the "Clean Fifteen" lists those with the lowest. If you are shopping on a budget, select these foods as conventionally grown, and prioritize buying organic versions of the foods listed on the Dirty Dozen.

This selective approach allows you to allocate your organic food budget more effectively, focusing on the items most likely to be contaminated. 

Pesticide-Free Future

By making informed choices about the produce we buy and consume, supporting sustainable farming practices, and advocating for stricter regulations on pesticide use, we can contribute to a healthier world. When you choose organic, wash your produce thoroughly, and educate others about the risks of pesticides, these little changes add up to a significant impact. Together, through small steps and collective action, we can move toward a future where our food is not only nutritious and delicious but also free from harmful chemicals.