Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG)* analyses pesticide residue testing data for popular fresh produce (fruit and vegetables). This data is provided from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.
For 2017 they’ve produced a list of 51 fruit and vegetables, ranked in order from cleanest to dirtiest. From this comes the ‘clean fifteen’ and ‘dirty dozen’ whereby the clean produce are those with the fewest pesticides and the dirty produce have been found to contain the highest pesticide residues.
I don’t like the idea of calling any fruit and veg dirty. Most of us need to eat MORE fruit and vegetables so the last thing we need to do is put people off eating them. If you’re concerned about the effects of possible pesticide residues, the best way to minimise exposure to them is to buy organic produce.
What are Pesticides?
Pesticides are chemical and biological substances that are used to kill or control pests, such as rodents, insects, fungi and plants, that harm our food, health or environment.
They include insecticides (insect killers), fungicides, herbicides (weed killers), and molluscicides (snail and slug poisons). Pesticides also include plant growth regulators, wood preservatives and treatments to protect food in storage.
Government Ministers must approve all pesticides before they can be marketed or used in the UK. Once approved, pesticide residues in the food chain are monitored through a surveillance programme.
Organic or Not
Where possible, try to buy organic versions of fruit and vegetables and especially those shown in the top 20 ‘dirty’ list. But if cost is an issue, and organic is generally more expensive, it’s far better for health to consume fruit and veg from non-organic sources than none at all.
Note that Organic farmers and growers in the UK are allowed to use a limited number of approved pesticides where other methods of control are inadequate to prevent damage by pests, diseases and weeds
Washing Fruit and Vegetables
Although UK health officials say that washing fruit & veg is never 100% effective, thoroughly washing them before eating can reduce your risks of inadvertently consuming unwanted pesticides and bacteria.
The best way to do this is to place the fruit or veg in a colander or sieve while giving it a gentle shake under cold running water. This provides friction which helps to remove more pesticides rather than just letting it sit under running water. For root vegetables such as potatoes, either soaking them for 20 minutes in cold water to loosen any dirt particles or peeling or scrubbing the skins is beneficial.
If you’re shopping in a health food store such as Whole Foods, you may have come across various fruit and vegetable washing sprays, however these don’t tend to perform any better than plain water.
*The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American environmental organisation that specialises in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.