Vegetables and fruits have the highest concentration of nutrients in their skins but do the harmful effects of pesticides on our produce outweigh the benefits? There is an emotionally charged battle waging over the overuse of chemical pesticides between the three trillion dollar chemical industry and advocate groups like the Environmental Working Group.
Here are some facts about pesticides in food:
  • A Journal of Pediatrics article says that attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is linked to the organophosphates pesticides which have widespread use in agriculture.
  • Pesticides are more detrimental to growing children and pregnant women than the rest of the population.
  • Crop protection chemicals is the new politically correct phrase inside the pesticide industry to refer to pesticides.
  • Over half of the vitamin C in an apple is in the skin or right beneath it, which typically gets removed during the peeling process.
  • The bulk of the natural fiber and antioxidants of an apple or potato are in the skins.
  • Some apples and red potatoes have a wax coating applied on top of the pesticide contaminated skins to make the fruit more appealing. The wax further impedes the removal of pesticides during the washing process.
  • Canned fruit has 80-90% of the pesticides destroyed in the washing and cooking process.
  • Celery has the highest concentration of pesticide of all produce.
  • US grown cherries have three times higher pesticide residue than foreign grown cherries.
  • Organically grown vegetables, by definition, have never been exposed to pesticides. In order to be classed as an organic product and labeled as such, they must comply with government regulations and inspections.

Foods with the highest concentration of chemical pesticides:

Celery   -   This vegetable is worst in class for pesticides. Buy organic if you can or give up celery.
Lettuce   -   Always discard the outer layer of leafs if you buy head lettuce. Buy organic leaf lettuce.
Cucumbers   -   Always peel this vegetable.
Green and red bell peppers   -   Use one of the washing techniques or buy organic.
Spinach   -   Buy organic.
Green beans   -    Wash thoroughly, grow your own or buy organic.
US grown potatoes   -   Always peel spuds.
US grown winter squash   -   Always peel squash. The rind is pretty much inedible.
Apples   -   Always peel them or buy organic. Consider planting your own apple tree.
Strawberries   -   Wash thoroughly, grow your own or buy organic.
Cherries (US)    -   Wash thoroughly or buy organic.
Peaches, Nectarines   -   Always peel these or buy the canned variety.
Blueberries   -   Wash well or buy organic.
Grapes from Chile   -   Wash or buy US grown if they are in season.
Mexican grown cantaloupe   -   Buy US grown or organic.
Apricots   -   Always peel or eat canned apricots.
Pears   -   Always peel or eat canned pears.

Foods with the lowest concentration of chemical pesticides:

Frozen sweet corn
Frozen sweet peas
Brussels sprouts
Sweet potatoes
Kiwi fruit

Options for removing the chemical pesticides from produce:
  • Buy produce grown by organic farmers or grow your own organic produce. Lettuce, green beans and strawberries are very common in backyard gardens. No action is required to remove the pesticides. 
  • Do a simple wash in tap water for 30 seconds. This is better than nothing. Consider also that multiple farm laborers and delivery people have handled produce, even organic types, and that pesticides aren’t the only issue. There are also germs and dirt left on your produce, organic or not. 
  • Use water and a vegetable scrubber on the skins. This may aid in getting dirt off vegetables such as potatoes and carrots and also be a good follow-up used after a vegetable wash bath. 
  • Wash then peel your produce. Washing in plain water does not remove all the pesticides but is a good precursor to peeling the fruit or vegetable. It also keeps the cutting board and paring tool more free of chemical pesticides. Some items aren’t practical to peel such as celery, green beans, spinach, strawberries and blueberries.
  • Make your own vegetable wash using one of these methods:
    1.  Mix a homemade solution of one tablespoon lemon juice and one tablespoon vinegar in one cup of water. Spray this over the produce and then let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing. The lemon juice is optional in some recipes.
    2.  Optionally, you can use one cup water, one cup vinegar and one tablespoon baking soda. It will foam so mix it in an over-sized container first before transferring it to a spray bottle.

Buying organic certainly seems the safest way to go. When shopping, pick from the above list of produce containing the least amount of pesticides.  If cost is an issue, either buy canned fruit or use homemade vegetable wash solutions on the higher risk vegetables and fruits. Remember that the effects of pesticides can take decades before becoming noticeable, as toxins slowly build up in your system. Even though you might feel fine now, it is prudent to think about your long term health.