Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pesticides and Produce - The Clean and the Dirty

(For more information on this topic, please read our previous post: Pesticides - Agriculture's Modern Day "Snake Oil")

According to a yearly survey done by the USDA, 98% of conventionally grown (not counting organic) apples contain at least one pesticide. In fact, of the 700 apples tested, there were 48 different types of pesticides found. Also high on the USDA list with at least 90% of samples containing pesticides were grapes, cilantro, potatoes, and spinach. All produce was washed (10 seconds under cold water) and, where applicable, peeled prior to testing, as to better simulate consumer consumption.

The USDA survey is performed yearly to identify which foods are more likely to contain pesticides. This data has been studied by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has updated its “Dirty Dozen” most pesticide containing foods. In addition, the EWG has also updated its “Clean 15” list of conventionally grown foods containing the least amount of pesticides. Both lists can be found on the EWG 2011 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

According to the EWG website, switching your fruit and vegetable servings (5 per day)  from the “Dirty Dozen” list to the “Clean 15” list can reduce your pesticide consumption by up to 92%, while also eating fewer different types. Five servings from the “Dirty Dozen” list would, on average, cause you to consume about 14 different pesticides per day. Five servings from the “Clean 15”, on the other hand, would cause you to consume fewer than 2 different pesticides per day. Did you order a side of pesticides with that apple?

EWG also goes on to remind people that the health benefits of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables far outweighs the risk of pesticide exposure. Their list is designed to help consumers, some of which do not have access to organic produce or cannot afford it, to better choose safer alternatives. EWG President Ken Cook, said:

Though buying organic is always the best choice, we know that sometimes people do not have access to that produce or cannot afford it. Our guide helps consumers concerned about pesticides to make better choices among conventional produce, and lets them know which fruits and vegetables they may want to buy organic.

Most troubling of all, some foods contained pesticides NOT EVEN APPROVED FOR USE on those crops. In 44% of cilantro samples (never before tested by the USDA until this year), 33 unapproved pesticides were detected. This is the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides found in any tested product since 1995.

The “Dirty Dozen” list contains (in order):
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported) 
  7. Grapes (imported) 
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens
The “Clean 15” list contains (in order):
  1. Onions
  2. Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Cantaloupe (domestic) 
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms
Clearly, buying Organic is the best way to avoid pesticide residues in your produce. When Organic is not an option, you may want to keep EWG’s research in mind.

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

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