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Does Washing Your Fruits and Veggies Remove These Hidden Chemicals?

When you bring home your gleaming bags of fresh fruit and vegetables from the market, you might give them a quick rinse under the tap before you proceed to eat. Unfortunately, rinsing in water, or even peeling, only removes surface residue. It can’t remove traces of pesticides or industrial chemicals used in pre-consumer washing and processing. Pesticides are chemicals used to kill pests, including insects, rodents, fungi and weeds that damage crops. They can also pose toxic threats to human health.

To help consumers educate themselves, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental research group based in Washington D.C., recently released its annual pesticide report which includes a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The EWG Shopper’s Guide ranks pesticide contamination of popular fruits and vegetables on more than 36,000 samples of produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This year, they found that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 conventionally grown types of produce contained pesticide residue. Washing did not remove the pesticides, nor, in many cases, did peeling.

The guide includes a list called the Dirty Dozen, which lists the produce with the highest amount of pesticide residue, and the Clean Fifteen, the produce that contains the least pesticide residue. This provides a good guide for people who want to consume fewer pesticides but can’t afford organic produce.

The Dirty Dozen ranked in order of most contaminated with pesticides to least are: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.

The Clean Fifteen starts with produce least likely to contain pesticide residue: sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.

Understanding Pesticides

According to the World Health Organization, pesticides are potentially toxic to other organisms, including humans, and need to be used safely and disposed of properly.

However, the term pesticide is a bit misleading. “The definition of a pesticide is something that kills a pest,” according to Kristin Schafer, Policy Director for the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PAN), a public safety group that helps consumers educate themselves and attempts to influence policy. What consumers need to be wary of are the

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  • Jordan Rosenfeld is author of 7 books and has published in: The Atlantic, the Daily Beast, the New York Times, Pacific Standard, Quartz, Salon, the Washington Post and many more. Her writing can be found on www.jordanrosenfeld.net, and you can follow her on Twitter @JordanRosenfeld.

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