Pesticides.  Herbicides. Biocides. Toxic residues.  Contaminants.  Sounds appetizing, right?  My family, like many others, are concerned with the amount of pesticide residue that we are consuming.  More and more people are choosing to purchase organics whenever possible in an effort to reduce exposure to these harmful substances.  Ingesting these chemicals poses an even greater threat to children.  Recent research has show that even small exposures in the womb, infancy, and early childhood can lead to serious health issues down the road.  Studies have shown a link between pesticide consumption and serious health conditions including leukemia, ADHD, autism, and a plethora of food allergies.  It’s no surprise that as pesticide levels increased, so did the number of these cases.

Besides trying to minimize pesticide exposure, there are other reasons to seek out organic produce.  For starters, organic farming is far gentler on the environment than conventional agriculture.  Twenty four billion pounds of chemical fertilizers are applied on non-organic crops each year, now that’s a staggering statistic!  Organic foods are also produced without GMO’s, have higher nutrient levels, prohibit irradiation and use of sewage sludge, and preserve family farms. 

Whatever the motivation for choosing organics, be it the mounting evidence showing the detrimental effects of pesticide exposure or the desire to do your part in preserving the environment, many people find themselves asking a few questions.  Do the benefits of fruits and veggies outweigh the risks of toxic exposure?  Do I need to dip into my kids college fund so I can buy everything organic?  I think it goes without saying, fruits and veggies provide many essential vitamins and minerals and are an essential part of a healthy diet.  Luckily, there are a few simple guidelines that you can implement that will virtually eliminate all of your family’s exposure to these nasty pesticides while reaping all the health benefits that fresh produce has to offer.

First and foremost, you must arm yourself with the knowledge of which foods contain the highest level of pesticides and purchase these organically without exception.  According to the Environmental Working Group, up to 90% of our exposure comes from 12 crops, known as “The Dirty Dozen.”

  • apples
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • nectarines (imported)
  • peaches
  • grapes
  • cherry tomatoes
  • potatoes
  • spinach
  • strawberries
  • bell peppers
  • hot peppers

Kale and collard greens have also recently been added to the list.  If possible, you should make a conscious effort to only purchase the organic variety of these types of produce.  That goes for fresh as well as any packaged snacks/foods with any of these items as their ingredients.

On the flip side to this, are the fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of residual pesticides, known as the “Clean Fifteen.”  Most of the foods on this list have protective coverings that naturally protect the flesh from pests. My rule of thumb for making the choice between conventional and organic produce is usually dependent on whether or not the food needs to be peeled.  Obviously, produce that has to be peeled in order to eat it is going to contain very little, if any pesticide residue on the edible portion of it.  Lucky for us, buying these foods conventionally doesn’t weigh heavily on our wallets or our consciences. 

  • onions
  • corn
  • pineapple
  • avocado
  • asparagus
  • sweet peas
  • mangos
  • eggplant
  • kiwi
  • cantaloupe (domestic)
  • cabbage
  • watermelon
  • sweet potatoes
  • grapefruit
  • mushrooms

Ok, so now you know which foods to buy organic and which ones are the safest should you choose conventional.  For all non-organic produce you purchase, there are two simple steps you can take to reduce or eliminate residues and bacteria.

First, remove the outer leaves or peels, as these will house the highest concentrations of pesticide residue.

Second, (and the reason for this post) use a vegetable wash on all non-organic produce.  There are commercial washes available, but you can make your own for pennies.  Plus, when you make it yourself, it is completely safe, non-toxic, all-natural, and won’t affect the taste of your produce.  Even foods that need to be peeled, like cantaloupe, should be washed before consuming.  Whatever residue is on the skin will be pulled through to the fruit as your knife cuts through.

Here are three simple recipes to add to your pesticide busting arsenal, all made with items you probably already have in your kitchen.  You can easily whip these up in seconds, and help guard yourself against the harmful effects of chemicals, all without breaking the bank!  For each recipe, the process is the same:

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well.  Spray on produce, allow to sit for a few minutes, lightly scrub, and then rinse well.  Alternately, you can soak produce in a veggie wash “bath” and then scrub and rinse.

Homemade Fruit and Veggie Wash #1

  • 1/2 c white vinegar
  • 4 T sea salt
  • 2 c filtered water

Homemade Fruit and Veggie Wash #2

  • 4 T lemon juice
  • 4 T baking soda
  • 2 c filtered water

Homemade Fruit and Veggie Wash #3

  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 2 T white vinegar
  • 1 c filtered water