Statistics say 55% of you (my readers) will not read even half of this article! To that, I say the ones that really care about their health and are looking for pocket-friendly ways of repelling pesticides will surely do…
I have seen people, especially parents, drastically cutting back on the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables for the fear of toxic pesticides. Is eating fewer fruits and vegetables a better option?
Is ‘Organic or Nothing’ a way to a better health?
We are not unaware of harmful effects of chemical pesticides, are we? I still vividly remember that news story from back in 2013 when 23 school children died because their school lunch was accidentally contaminated with pesticides! And though, us, the general public is not exposed to the lethal doses of these harmful chemicals, they tend to bio-accumulate in our system over time and can cause damage. From neural toxicity to endocrine disruption and from cancer to birth defects, at high levels of exposure, these pesticides are known to wreak a havoc on our systems!
Some Of The Commonly Used Pesticides Are-
- Monocrotophos: used on citrus, rice, corn, jowar, sugar cane, peanuts, potatoes, soya beans, vegetables, tobacco, coffee, bananas, melons, green beans, bell peppers, and strawberries. Highly toxic to Humans, Birds and, Bees.
- Dimethoate: used on citrus, cotton, fruits, potatoes, tea, and vegetables. Not as toxic as some of the others on this list!
- Methyl Parathion: used on fruits, cotton, wheat, vegetables, and nut crops. Toxic to Humans and Animals.
- Profenofos: a moderately toxic insecticide, mainly used on corn, cotton, soybean, and potatoes. Water-insoluble.
- Chlorpyrifos: used on various crops to control all kinds of insects. Water-insoluble.
- Endosulfan: used on teas, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Highly Toxic to Humans and Animals. Water-insoluble.
- Cypermethrin: used on household insects and also on crops during different stages of handling. Toxic to Humans, and Extremely Toxic to Cats!
There are Pesticides/Insecticides that has been banned in more than 50 countries but here in India, our regulatory authorities are still not fazed by the claims and proofs of their possible health hazards. We’re all Superhumans here in India! Aren’t we!?
Just as the US has their Dirty Dozen list, In India, common produce like Tomato, Ladies Finger (okra), Potatoes, Bell peppers, Spinach, Soybeans, Strawberries, Apples, Grapes, Chillies is known to be heavily treated with pesticides.
Good News, there are solutions out there that are inexpensive and simple.
Actually last week I saw a “Veggie-Wash” in one of the health food stores, and I was very much tempted to buy one but on a second thought decided to do some digging on its effectiveness and came across some unexpected facts.
So without further wait, here are the household methods to remove pesticides off of your fruits and vegetables, starting from lest effective to the most effective one-
Number 5. Washing With Tap Water
Washing with plain tap water removes up to 73% of pesticide residue off of the produce. Bio or Veggie washes gives pretty much the same result. Research suggests its the mechanical action of rinsing does the trick thus using additional soap is redundant.
Number 4. Washing With Baking Soda or Vinegar
Washing fruits and veggies with Apple Cider Vinegar (acetic acid) is all the rave these days. You will find tons of holistic practitioners swearing by it. But research shows that even 4% acetic acid solution is only effective at removing up to 79% of pesticide residues!
Similarly, 1% baking soda solution removes only up to 76% of pesticide residue. [I, myself, were washing with baking soda all these years…]
Number 3. Washing With Salt Water
This one kind of took me by surprise. Soaking your produce in 2% salt water for 10 minutes is shown to reduce pesticide count by up to 88%.
Number 2. Boiling
Yes, boiling. Boiling for just 5 minutes seems to do the trick!
Boiling has been shown to reduce residues of different pesticides by 89-99%! Different methods of cooking from blanching to pressure cooking and from stir-frying to steaming been shown to be moderately effective but boiling beats them all!. There are two possible reasons for this. 1. Boiling is very effective for dislodging the pesticide particles from the fruit/vegetable surface (both water soluble and insoluble particles). 2. Most pesticides, especially the organophosphate ones are susceptible to the heat.
Number 1. Washing with Salt Water + Boiling!
Washing with 2% salt water and then boiling for 5 minutes removes almost 100% of all surface pesticide residue from your vegetables.
Some honorable mentions (that did not make the list due to subpar performances): Washing with Lemon Water, Tamarind Water, Microwaving, Bio Wash/Veggie Wash etc.
Cool! But I don’t have time to soak, rinse and boil all my produce on daily basis. Tell me something practical… Isn’t this what y’all are thinking?
Being a working housemaker myself, I understand the concept of time constraints all very well. Which is why I will translate all that scientific mumbo-jumbo into simple and practical tips for you (which is what us dietitians are supposed to do anyway, investigate the evidence and translate research into practical solutions that is! Sadly there are many of my fellow dietitians out there that don’t investigate for themselves and preach unscientific practices!). Anyways, here we go-
Know that you do not have to wash ALL the produce. Fruits and veggies with thick outer covering can be used without intensive washing. Just Peel them and Eat!
Examples: Banana, Oranges, Pomegranate, Avacado, Onions, garlic, Melons, Cabbage (remove outer layers), Corn, pea pods, pineapple, pumpkin, kiwi etc.
Fruits and vegetable that has a rough outer skin tend to trap dirt/mud in nooks and crannies! (Example: carrots, radish, sweet potatoes, potatoes, bitter gourd etc.)To get rid of that dirt rinse them under tap water while scrubbing off the dirt with a gentle scrubber. Make sure not to use this Veggie brush/scrubber for anything else.Scrub gently as any force will tear the skin apart. Bacteria tend to enter through these small tears and spoil the produce.For leafy veggies, their roots tend to have a lot of mud attached to them. You can rinse them or simply trim the roots off.
Done with taking the dirt off? Now, divide all of them into two groups-“The Ones That Will Be Eaten Raw (SALAD ones), and “The Ones That Will Be Cooked (COOKING ones)
You will need 2% Salt Water To Wash your fruits and veggies.To prepare 2% Salt Water, mix 4 teaspoons of table salt into 4 cups (1L) water
Soak your SALAD fruits and Veggies in salt water for 10 minutes. This will remove up to 88% of pesticide residues off of their surface!After 10 minutes, discard the salt water. And rinse them under tap water to remove any excess salt residue.Salt water bath is extremely important for SALAD veggies and Fruits as they will be consumed raw!Now as for cooking veggies, you can totally skip the 2% salt water bath as cooking itself reduces a significant amount of pesticides. That being said, if you have extra time on hand, and want to be extra thorough, you can give than the salt water bath before cooking, which will remove almost 100% of pesticide residues.
Take Home Message
Growing Organic, Buying Organic, Eating Organic and Supporting Organic is a conscious choice that goes well beyond avoiding chemical pesticides in the food. It is a choice where you say “Yes” to sustainable farming practices and “No” to groundwater contamination, “No” to disruption of the food chain caused by extension of certain pests and insects, and “No” to bioaccumulation of these harmful chemicals in all things alive. But Truth to be told, not all of us can afford to but Organic all the time as it is more expensive. And using some chemical washes to wash to vegetables just defeats the purpose. Household techniques like rinsing under tap water, washing with salt water, and cooking are way more effective at pesticide removal than you would think. Use my 5 step guide to remove up to 99% of pesticides off your Fruits & Vegetables!
References 1. S. (2012). Effect of Household Processing on the Removal of Pesticide Residues in Okra Vegetable. Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences,8(1). doi:10.6000/1927-5129.2012.08.01.22 2. Chandra, S. (2015). Effects of Household Processing on reduction of Pesticide Residues in Brinjal and Okra. International Journal Of Advances In Pharmacy, Biology and Chemistry.,4(1). 3. Harinathareddy, A. (2014). Effects of Household Processing Methods On The Removal Of Pesticide Residues In Tomato Vegetable. Journal of Environmental Research And Development,9(1). 4. Vemuri, S. B. (2014). Methods for Removal of Pesticide Residues in Tomato. Food Science and Technology,2(5). doi:10.13189/ fst.2014.020502