The demand for fresh produce has increased in recent years as more people are turning to fresh fruits and vegetables for their nutritional value. That increase in demand has forced many suppliers to import more produce from other countries, which could be putting consumers’ health at risk.
Although the United States and Canada may have stringent standards for produce, many other countries do not. Less stringent regulations overseas can result in irrigation water carrying sewage, pollutants and parasites to crops, and herbicides and pesticides may be used in abundance in foreign countries where such usage is subject to little, if any, oversight. Fewer regulations means some farms pay more attention to profit than to the purity and safety of crops. The Pure Food Growers of America states that the average American consumes more than 10 pounds of insecticides and herbicides every year from produce. Many of these substances are proven carcinogens.
Thoroughly washing and soaking fresh produce is the key to removing potential hazards from foods. Organic fruits and vegetables may be less risky, but even organic foods are susceptible to contamination because of potentially unsafe handling practices.
All produce should be washed before eaten. Before cleaning produce, stock up on a few supplies. You will need a large plastic bowl, some apple cider vinegar or baking soda and a produce brush. Add enough cool water to cover the produce you will be washing. Add either three tablespoons per gallon of water of the vinegar to the bowl or sprinkle about three tablespoons of the baking soda into the water. It’s best not to mix both the vinegar and the baking soda, or you may end up with a foaming, overflowing concoction thanks to the chemical reaction that occurs when vinegar mixes with baking soda.
Add the vegetables or fruit to the treated water and allow it to soak for around 10 minutes. Use a vegetable brush to thoroughly scrub the produce. Some foods, like celery and lettuce, have dirt or bugs trapped in their ribs and folds. Soaking and scrubbing can dislodge any bugs. Instead of washing the entire head at once, wash lettuce leaves as they are used to retain the vitamins and minerals.
After rinsing the produce, allow to dry before eating. A salad spinner can help dry lettuce and cabbage leaves so they are not soggy.
It is best to wash produce right before using it rather than washing it in advance. Moisture encourages bacterial growth and hasten spoiling. Even foods that have a rind, such as melons, should be washed prior to eating to avoid contamination from the rind to the flesh inside.
The Dirty Dozen
Certain foods are dirtier than others in terms of the pesticides they contain. However, foods that were grown without pesticides may still be contaminated by animal feces and bacteria from the soil and irrigation. That being said, here are the 12 foods that are most likely to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residue, according to The Environmental Working Group.
3. Cherry tomatoes
6. Hot peppers
12. Sweet bell peppers