Pesticides on Produce: Can They Be Removed?

Photo by  Dan Gold  on  Unsplash

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

I believe that vegetables can save the world.

This may sound silly – but if you consider the quality of the nutrition, the antioxidants, the alkalinity, the colours, the variety of flavours and texture, and the creativity that can be tapped into with almost no caloric cost, then veggies become the ‘superheros’ to a healthier world.

And most people don’t eat enough of them.

If people ate enough, most would be lighter, more emotionally stable, have more energy, and be substantially less at risk for illness and degenerative disease. Save the world, well maybe not… but save our health, absolutely.

But then we face the question of pesticides that reside on vegetables and fruit. Will they counter the goodness of the produce?

In a nutshell, no. The benefits from eating vegetables and fruit override the possible negatives of pesticides. But minimizing the ingestion of unnecessary chemicals is absolutely a plus. There are a few ways that we can do this.

Buy organic whenever you can. Yes, organic is generally more expensive and not always readily available. But if you can at least focus on buying the ‘dirty dozen’ organically, that will, according to the Environmental Working Group, who created the 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, reduce your overall pesticide intake by approximately 80%.

The dirty dozen, i.e. the most pesticide laden are:

  1. strawberries

  2. spinach

  3. nectarines

  4. apples

  5. grapes

  6. peaches

  7. cherries

  8. pears

  9. tomatoes

  10. celery

  11. potatoes

  12. sweet bell peppers + hot peppers

Go to the link above to see the 15 cleanest, i.e. the produce with the least amount of pesticides. These are the ones that are less crucial to buy organically.

So what if you buy non-organic and want to wash off the pesticides. Can it be done? In part, yes. But it is dependent on the chemical and physical nature of the pesticide, whether it is fat or water soluble, how long it is has been since it has been sprayed, and whether it is heat stable. Based on all of these factors, some pesticides can be almost completely removed some of the time. Other times, only a small percentage will be removed. Sorry that I can’t be more definite but like all other aspects of nutrition, it isn’t black and white.

Having said that, here are some steps you can take to reduce the pesticide load:

  • As mentioned previously, buy organic whenever you can (especially for the dirty dozen).

  • If you can’t buy organic, get it local – it means less time for the pesticides to weave their way into the plant fibres and more chance of removal.

  • At the least, wash your fruit and veggies in plain water. In some cases that can remove as much as 50% or more of the water soluble pesticides. Hot water seems to be slightly more effective than cold.

  • Peeling the produce that can be peeled will remove all of the pesticides remaining on the surface but of course, not those that are systemic. The disadvantage to this is that you miss out on some of the antioxidants and other nutrients that are in the peel itself.

  • Boiling, blanching and steaming also help to remove the pesticides that are not heat stable. In some cases, this is the most effective removal method. The disadvantage is that you also lose some of the nutrients that were present in the raw food.

  • A 5% salt solution in water increases the removal of some pesticides over plain water washing. The effectiveness varies from no more effective to being as much as 10% more effective. If you do want to do a salt water wash, you would need 2 heaping teaspoons in a tub of 2 quarts (80 oz.) of water.

  • Although there is not a lot of evidence for vegetable soaps, they may increase the removal of water and fat soluble chemicals. One research review of organophosphate residues, showed that a water wash removed 45% while a detergent removed 56%.

  • Eat a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables – specific pesticides are used for individual crops – so besides getting a variance of nutrients, you will be minimizing the load of any one particular toxin in your body.

I have had people ask me if vinegar or hydrogen peroxide work for cleaning pesticides off produce. Although I did see mention of each in the research, none were actually tested (in the reviews that I found). So for now, I can’t say that one would work better than doing what I have mentioned above. If I find out more about this, I will update you. Or if any of you know of some research, please share it with us in the comment box below.