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News / Health

Don’t stress over pesticides-on-produce list

Washing fruits and vegetables can help reduce residue

By Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press
Published: April 29, 2019, 6:05am

A recent column on the Environmental Working Group’s list of fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticides generated some reader comments. Most wondered if washing eliminates any pesticides residue.

While the EWG said washing doesn’t remove the fruit and produce from their list, it’s still recommended to wash all fruits and vegetables.

What’s important to reiterate is the overall goal is for Americans to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables for a healthy, well-balanced diet. While the EWG’s list is based on USDA data, the USDA says the residues detected are below “benchmark levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

The Alliance for Food and Farming, which represents organic as well as conventional farmers, also drives home the point of consuming more fruits and vegetables.

“There are many ways to promote organic produce without resorting to disparaging the more accessible forms of fruits and veggies that the science has repeatedly shown are safe,” says AFF Executive Director Teresa Thorne in an email.

Thorne said that lists like this can “negatively impact consumers’ purchasing of both organic and conventional produce.”

The AFF also points out that just because something has pesticide residues on food does not mean they are harmful. To help consumers, the AFF provides an easy-to-use risk calculator at www.safefruitsandveggies.com for pesticides.

Once you click on the calculator and choose if you’re a man, woman, teen or child, a list of fruits and vegetables pop up. Click on the vegetable and what comes up is the amount of servings a person could eat in one day having no effect even if it had the “highest pesticide residue recorded by the USDA.” There’s a combination of 19 fruits and vegetables shown from apples to kale to spinach and strawberries. For example, a woman could theoretically consume 774 servings of spinach in one day without risk.

The federal Food and Drug Administration recommends washing fruits and vegetables before eating. Not only is it good practice, but, they say, it can reduce and often eliminate residues.

Here are a few preparations listed at www.fda.gov.

Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.

Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.

All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.

Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed, you can use the produce without further washing.

Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first.

Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.

Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.

Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

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Vinegar bath for berries

On a separate note, with highly perishable berries, one method for helping them stay fresh longer is to soak them in a vinegar bath. And don’t worry, they won’t taste like vinegar. This reportedly helps destroy bacteria and mold spores. Cared for this way, strawberries can last up to two weeks and raspberries a good week.

Here’s what you need to do:

Make a solution of 3 cups water to 1 cup white vinegar.

Place the berries in a bowl and cover with the water/vinegar solution.

Let sit 5 minutes. Drain and rinse the berries.

Place on paper towel to dry.

To store, line a container with paper towel and place the berries in the container. This well absorb any more moisture.