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Can you wash off pesticides? How to avoid over 90% of pesticides without buying organic!


We’ve all heard about how bad pesticides are for you. But do you really have to spend the money for organic fruits and vegetables or can you wash off the pesticides? You can to a certain degree wash off quite a bit of the pesticides on the exterior of the item by rinsing  and rubbing it under running water for at least 30 seconds. Studies have shown that plain water is just as effective at the removal of pesticides as compared with several detergents and fruit and vegetable washes. A 3 year study showed that washing under water from the faucet significantly reduced pesticide residues of nine of the twelve pesticides examined. Unfortunately you will not be able to remove all of the pesticides and you won’t be able to get rid of whatever was absorbed by the fruit or vegetable as it grew. But at least you know that there is no need to waste money on a special fruit and veggie wash.

Did you know that there is a simple way to avoid 80% of pesticides without buying organic?
  The environmental working group (EWG) tests a variety of the most popular fruits and vegetables every year to find out how many and what types of pesticides are found on them. There is a wide variance between different types and they are ranked according to their likelihood of being contaminated with various synthetic pesticides.  The best produce to buy with the least likelihood of pesticide contamination are the “clean 15.”

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet Corn (But, I would be concerned about whether the corn was genetically modified)
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Mango
  8. Eggplant
  9. Domestic Cantaloupe
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet Potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

The 12 worst offenders with the most pesticides are known as the “dirty dozen.”

  1. Apples (more that 97% tested positive for pesticides and 92% tested positive for 2 kinds!)
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet Bell Peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/Collard Greens

According the the EWG you can avoid about 80% of pesticides simply by avoiding the dirty dozen. And, you can avoid about 92% of pesticides by sticking to the clean 15! So, that means that you can avoid a majority of pesticides without having to fork over extra money for organic! You may actually be surprised that organic foods in season may not cost as much as you think. When I was in the store this week the difference between 3 pounds of conventional apples versus 3 pounds of organic apples was only .47 cents!

One great way to get organic produce that may not be certified organic is to check out your local farmer’s market. Ask the farmer if they use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

So it seems that the key things to remember are to not buy from the dirty dozen (or buy organic for those) and don’t forget to wash and rub your produce for at least 30 seconds. What is your stance on organic produce? Do you try to buy only organic? We are not perfect about it, but I figure that every little bit helps- especially if the price of organic is not too much different than the conventional price.
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See you soon,


Sources: WhFoods, Cleveland, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Aurora Sentinel
Images: NatalieMaynor

28 comments to Can you wash off pesticides? How to avoid over 90% of pesticides without buying organic!

  • Danielle

    We try to avoid the Dirty Dozen but sometimes the berries get us. They are so pricey and those happen to be the ones my boys love the most. But when I see $7 versus $3 for strawberries, it's hard to justify it. Then I try to remember that we can't put a price on our health!

  • Catherine

    I had been wondering about the Clean 15. Thanks for posting that! I'm definitely an advocate for simply going pesticide-free at the farmer's markets. I love buying local produce!

  • carolinaheartstrings

    Thanks for sharing that. I am a washer of all fruits and veges the second they get unloaded. Even bagged onions!

  • Sweet And Crumby

    Thanks! That's good to know.

  • Katie @ This Chick C

    Danielle- I agree! It is hard to fork over big bucks for the Downey organic stuff like berries. I try to do what I can and figure anything we do it better than nothing. Catherine- we love local produce too. I'm always at the farmers market :)

  • Jill

    Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. Hope to see you next week! Be sure to visit RealFoodForager.com on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!http://realfoodforager.com/2011/10/fat-tuesday-october-4-2011/If you have grain-free recipes please visit Wednesday night for a grain-free linky carnival in support of my 28 day grain-free challenge starting Wednesday!

  • Mackenzie

    This is so helpful! Eating organic foods is so expensive! Especially when you're on a college students budget. Thanks for sharing! Visiting from Tip Junkie linky.

  • Melanie

    Great post Katie! I've never used a produce wash, but I've always scrubbed my fruits and veggies well. Its good to know that works just as well without a produce wash. I try to by organic or at least follow the dirty dozen guidelines. Organic tastes better to me :)

  • France@beyondthepeel

    Great Post katie. I've hear of the clean 15 years ago and since then have forgotten which items were on the list, along with which ones we should direct our money to buying organic. Everyone should print this and carry it around with them while grocery shopping!

  • France@beyondthepeel

    Ps I'm sharing this on facebook and twitter;)

  • Barb

    Last week at the store, organic apples were $1 a pound more than regular ones. We live in apple country but none of the farmers grow organic. It's hard to shop organic produce and keep to a budget. That's a sad state of affairs. We just switched to organic milk. It is $2 more a gallon and we go through 3 gallons a week.

  • Mrs. T

    This is a great article! Although, with organic, you most likely know that it is not as GMF. That is another danger… not just the pesticdes. Plus, organic produce has almost twice the nutrients than non-organic produce. So are you REALLY paying less, when you are getting half the quality? I say that my optimum health is worth whatever I have to spend on my produce. I just wish I could grow it myself and know for sure how it was grown and what was put on it. Oh well… hopefully some day. :)

  • Vicki V @ blestnest.

    Great post! I wouldn't have thought of potatoes as being in the "dirty" category since they're a root vegetable. Hmm.

  • Betty @ Little Farm

    Great post! By the way, rinsing your produce in cool water eliminates 50% of the surface contiminates. Using a veggie brush ups that to 85%, and using a veggie wash or adding a cup of vinegar to your water eliminates about 98% of surface contiminates. We wash everything as soon as it hits the house!

  • Anonymous

    good information, but I'm left wondering why it took them three whole years to figure out washing fruit removes pesticides. Seems to me they could have figured that out in an afternoon. Or if they wanted to see if it worked for EVERY fruit and veggie, a month or two.. but three years? I just can't get past that..

  • Katie @ This Chick C

    I will have to try to see if I can find a veggie brush to "up" the pesticide removal. It really can be expensive and hard to try to follow all the rules and my family is definitely nowhere near perfect, but we just try to be informed and do what we can do.I have no idea why that study lasted for 3 years. That is a good question!

  • Jenna @ Newlyweds

    Thanks for the tips, I didn't know!!

  • Kim@todayismysome-da

    Thanks for the reminder. It's so sad that we have to work so hard to protect our families from "food"

  • Mary L

    There was an article in our local newspaper a couple of weeks ago, after a year long study at a major university that by mixing 1/2 cup vinegar with 1-1/2 cup of water, then spraying your vegetables and letting then sit for several minutes, then rinsing would remove 98% of the pesticides found on produce.

  • Shiloh

    That was really helpful. I wash all my fruit and vegies, but I should probably work a little harder at the 30 seconds part.:)

  • Michelle @ The Willi

    Thanks for this! I always try to clean my produce under running water to get a good clean. I don't stick to organic per se but if I find a good deal, I definitely try to stock up. At least this makes me feel a little better about what I put in my family's body.We bought 50 lbs of blueberries this summer from a Michigan farm. They said that they forgo the Blueberry Association because it requires spraying every 10 days. They were certainly raking in the cash at $1/lb though. We have a freezer full still!

  • Katie @ This Chick C

    Mary- Thanks for that tip! I love vinegar and will have to try that!Michelle- Wow! Getting all those blueberries would be awesome!

  • Anonymous

    My concern is whether the local farmer is telling the truth. There is no way to check this.

  • Vicky

    What about items that aren’t on either list? I see Grapefruit is on the Clean 15 list… do you know if other citruses (oranges, lemons, limes) are also okay to buy non-organic? And would you want organic if you’re going to use the zest? Also, I’ve heard bananas are okay because of their thick peel… but I see they didn’t make the clean 15… Do you know anything about those?

    Thanks for answering my water bottle questions the other day. I’m still researching, but I’m also leaning toward the Kleen Kanteen. They have a couple of options for a stainless steel lid. They also have an insulated tote which should help keep it cool(er) in the TX heat and take care of the “sweat” problem a lot of the reviewers complained about. Never thought I’d be buying so many accessories for a WATER BOTTLE! :)

    • You’re very welcome, Vicky. If it were me I would try to get organic if you are using the zest. You can get a complete list of fruits and veggies with pesticide ranking here http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list/. The lower the number the more pesticides it has, so just make your own call as to what you feel good about buying. I still buy plenty f conventional stuff since there is no organic available for some stuff in my small town and for other stuff it is just too expensive.

  • Julie

    What about the organic pesticides? Like Rotenone and pyrethrin, which are two common organic pesticides and toxic to marine life. Plus you have to use like 7 x as much of the organic pesticides as you do of the synthetic pesticides cause they are not as effective as killing insects. They are organic pesticides and can be use on foods labeled “organic.” Is there a pesticide free label??? Like for foods that don’t use organic or synthetic pesticides?

  • [...] unfiltered vinegar. The reason you want organic is because apples are near the top of the list for the dirty dozen, so if conventional apples were used there would be a high concentration of pesticides in the [...]

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