Wash Pesticides Off Fruits And Vegetables
TikTok is not short on trends, and one that went viral is how to clean pesticide residue off fruits and vegetables before eating them. One popular video recommended using baking soda, white vinegar, and specialty “produce washes.”
While this may get rid of dirt and small bugs, the question is whether this is the best way of cleaning pesticide residue off produce. As TikTokers debate the best methods, health experts have other recommendations for cleaning fruits and vegetables.
Although some produce may contain pesticide residue, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) control the amount of pesticide left on foods to ensure food safety, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.
The federal agencies set limits on the amount of pesticides that can remain in or on food since these substances can be harmful to humans. In fact, the EPA says that some pesticides may be carcinogens—substances capable of causing cancer—while others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body.
“There are many different types of pesticides, and the human effects of ingesting these chemicals can vary based on the type of pesticide,” Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, medical toxicology physician and medical director at National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., told HuffPost. “Some pesticides can cause neurologic damage, while others are associated with chronic health conditions such as cancer.”
The EPA, however, says, “People are likely to be exposed to only very small amounts of a pesticide—too small to pose a risk.” Still, how many small amounts of pesticides does it take to place the body at risk of an illness? According to Johnson-Arbor, “the exact dose and timing of exposure needed to cause these harmful human health effects remains unknown.”
Experts Weigh In on Cleaning Fruits and Vegetables
Just as TikTokers offer methods of getting fruits and vegetables close to pesticide-free, experts have their own recommendations on how to get the job done:
1. Use regular tap water instead of soap, detergent, or store-bought “produce wash.”
The FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend a simple solution: washing produce with running water. The agencies do not recommend using vinegar, commercial produce washes, soap, or detergents. The FDA explains that fruits and vegetables are porous, which means that produce can easily absorb soap and household detergents—despite thorough rinsing, and make people sick. The agency further states that the safety of the residues of commercial produce washes is not known, and their effectiveness has not been tested.
2. Do not soak produce.
Rather than running water overproduce, some people prefer to soak them in clean water. Although this might help to remove pesticide residue from the surface of fruits and vegetables, Johnson-Arbor warned that soaking “can actually lead to an increased spread of germs through the soaking water, causing a higher level of contamination.” Johnson-Arbor further warns not to let washed produce touch your sink: “Your sink is dirtier than you think!”
3. Give produce with crevices and rough surfaces a more thorough cleaning.
According to Chris Young, a California-based gardener and horticulture author, different types of produce require different ways of washing them. Young recommends gently rinsing them all under cool running water first.
“For berries, be careful not to wash them too vigorously, as they can become mushy,” Young told HuffPost. “For leafy greens, separate the leaves and rinse them individually, ensuring that all sides are thoroughly cleaned. For produce with rough surfaces or crevices, like melons or cauliflower, use a produce brush to scrub away any dirt or debris. Pat them dry or use a clean paper towel before consumption.”
4. Remember to Clean the Rinds
It may be surprising for some that experts recommend cleaning the tough outer skin of produce, such as a watermelon or cantaloupe. Emma Laing, the director of dietetics at the University of Georgia, says produce that has to be peeled and eaten without the skin, such as a melon or a mango, requires the same level of attention in cleaning as fruits and vegetables that are eaten whole. “Even if you are not planning to eat the skin on certain produce, washing is important to minimize the dirt and bacteria that could be transferred from the surface” to the fruit itself when peeling or cutting, Laing told HuffPost.
5. Follow the Labeling on Pre-Washed Produce
The packaging of pre-washed and ready-to-eat produce usually states that you can eat the produce without further washing. However, if you still want to wash the produce, make sure that it does not come in contact with unclean surfaces or utensils. This will help to avoid cross-contamination.
6. Gentle Rubbing and Scrubbing Helps With Cleaning
Young says a little bit of rubbing or scrubbing can make plain tap water more effective in cleaning produce. “Most people skip the step of rubbing or gently scrubbing the surface of fruits and vegetables,” he said. “The friction created by rubbing or brushing helps remove dirt, bacteria, and some pesticide residues. So, remember to give your produce a gentle rub or use a produce brush for more effective cleaning.” Make sure you keep your produce brush clean to stop the spread of germs and the potential transfer of leftover direct and pesticide residue.
The expert and federal agencies all recommend drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to reduce further bacteria that may be present on the surface.
Go Organic To Avoid Pesticide Residue
If you’re concerned about pesticides, organic produce may be your best option. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, produce can be labeled certified if it has grown on soil that had no “prohibited substances,” such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, applied for three years prior to harvest.
Despite this advantage, organic produce has its downsides. For one, organic fruits and vegetables tend to cost more than non-organic produce. Also, not all grocers carry organic produce. But, for those who have access to organic fruits and vegetables, Richard LaMarita, a plant-based culinary arts chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, told HuffPost that this is the best way to avoid pesticides on your produce.
“Think about going more organic in your shopping and diet,” he said. “With organic, you can be assured that there are no artificial pesticides on your produce.”