I love strawberries! So you can probably imagine when I read they are now No. 1 on the Environmental Working Group’s list of the dirty dozen fruits, I wasn’t happy.
Chemical pesticides are accepted in conventional farming as a tool to kill bugs and weeds that would otherwise infest growing crops. And every year when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out its annual “Dirty Dozen” list, apples were almost always at the top.
Now strawberries are this year’s biggest pesticide carriers.
Apples, which have topped the list for the last five years, came in second. Each fruit and vegetable was tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). More than 98 percent of the samples of strawberries, peaches, nectarines and apples tested had at least one type of pesticide residue.
But, one sample of strawberries contained 17 different pesticides. Gross!
According to the USDA, pesticide residue shouldn’t keep us from consuming the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. They say that the benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables outweigh the harm.
But here are some disturbing facts:
- Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides accumulate in body cells, fatty tissue and in the nervous system weakening your immune systems by suppressing the function of white blood cells.
- More than 1,000 new chemicals are introduced annually, most of which have not been sufficiently tested for human safety.
- Each year, American farmers use more than forty million tons of synthetic chemical fertilizers on croplands.
- Organophosphates are among the most worrisome and most widely utilized pesticides. Organophosphates are also used to make nerve gas.
Although eating one piece of fruit with pesticide residue on it won’t kill you, over time they build up in your body and that can be detrimental to your health.
So… no peaches… no grapes… no tomatoes? Forever? No way! Here’s what I do to protect myself.
I look for and buy not just any organic produce from the grocery store, but the good stuff from my local green market. Yes, some of these folks have been found out to be buying so-called “organic” from importers and then reselling it, trying to fool people who want healthy produce. So I get to know the sellers and farmers from my area.
Why do I make a point of this? The dirty dozen fruits and vegetables are believed to be most susceptible to pesticides because their soft, permeable skin absorbs the chemicals more easily. But studies show that eating an organic diet for a week caused pesticide levels to drop by 90 percent in adults.
Organic produce is more expensive, but to balance the costs of eating organic versions of the dirty dozen, the EWG also releases a list of the fruits and vegetables that have the least amount of pesticide residues called the “Clean Fifteen.” It’s reasonably safe to buy non-organic versions of these foods.
There are many vegetables I get from my own garden. This allows me to control what goes on my food. The National Pesticide Information Center lists Integrated Pest Management options that allow you to control garden pests in ways that don’t affect the safety of your harvest.
Though fresh is always best, canned produce, juices and dried and frozen produce often have lower pesticide residue levels because of the meticulous washing and peeling that precedes processing.
Thoroughly cleaning your produce is another way to protect yourself. The FDA suggests some ways that residues can be reduced and often eliminated.
You don’t need lots of water. Just wash your produce with some chemical-free soap under running water rather than soaking or dunking it. Thoroughly rub soft-skinned fruits like nectarines and peaches with your hands. Rough-skinned melons and citrus fruits can be scrubbed with a brush before cutting or peeling. Do not use soap with chemicals in it. Remember to run your brush through the dishwasher regularly to keep it clean. They also recommend throwing away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce or cabbage.
To see the full list of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen you should always buy organic as well as their Clean Fifteen list of fruits and veggies with the least pesticides visit www.ewg.org.