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It’s Wise to Wash Your Produce

By Dr. Marisa Weiss on August 8th, 2012 Categories: Uncategorized

In an earlier Think Pink, Live Green column, I talked about the best fruits and veggies to buy organic, especially if you’re on a tight budget (who isn’t these days?). We all want to know how to get the healthiest bang for our shopping buck.

But what if your local store carries little or no organic produce and there’s no farmers’ market close by? Are there ways to remove pesticide residues from conventionally produced fruits and veggies? Thankfully, the answer is “yes.”

Here are my tips:

Take the “Clean 15” list with you to the store. The “Clean 15” are fruits and vegetables from conventional (non-organic sources) that have the lowest pesticide residues according to analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG is an environmental health advocacy organization based in the United States. The EWG analyzes pesticide studies and ranks residues on 50 of the most popular fruits and vegetables in the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. Buying produce on this list is a good place to start:

  • onions
  • corn
  • pineapples
  • avocado
  • asparagus
  • sweet peas
  • mangoes
  • eggplant
  • domestic cantaloupe
  • kiwi
  • cabbage
  • watermelon
  • sweet potatoes
  • grapefruit*
  • mushrooms

* Note: grapefruit may affect the way some chemotherapy medicines are processed in the body. If you’re getting chemotherapy and regularly eat grapefruit, ask your doctor about any possible chemotherapy drug interactions.

Rinse to reduce residues. Several studies have found that rinsing produce in tap water can wash away a large percentage of any pesticide residues on produce. It’s important to wash organic produce, too, to remove soil and bacteria, as well as the approved chemicals that inhibit fungus and other such pests. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these rinsing tips:

  • Wash all countertops, cutting boards, and utensils (peelers, knives, spoons, etc.) that will touch your produce with soap and hot water. Then rinse thoroughly.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after you handle fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Rinse fresh produce under clean running water for at least 30 seconds. Rub the produce with your hands to get rid of dirt and any microorganisms on the surface. You should rinse ALL your produce, even melons, squash and other things with a rind or peel — even if you’re not going to eat the outside. When you cut through the rind, any dirt or residue on the outer skin can stick to the knife and contaminate the inner flesh of the produce.
  • A vinegar-water wash can help get rid of bacteria and viruses on produce. Don’t use detergents or bleach as a produce wash because fruits and veggies are porous and can absorb these products.
  • Anything with a firm skin or rind such as carrots, potatoes, melons, and squash can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush.
  • Tear off the outer leaves of leafy veggies such as lettuce and cabbage before you wash them. This removes the leaves that have been the most heavily exposed to any pesticides.
  • It’s best to wash your produce just before you prepare it. Washing it and then storing it can make it spoil faster.

Spend your money on higher quality produce or more produce — not produce wash. The EWG hasn’t studied any of the commercially available produce washes on the market for effectiveness. But other groups (state Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station programs) have and found that these washes aren’t much better than tap water. So it may make more sense health-wise to take any money you’d spend on fruit and veggie wash and spend it on the most beautiful, nutrient-dense produce you can find.

The power of peeling. Peeling your produce after you rinse it can remove a large percentage of any residues left after rinsing. Most of us almost always peel bananas, avocados, oranges, and other produce with a thick skin. If you’re very concerned about other residues, you might want to peel all your fruits and veggies, including cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, and apples.

Don’t be upset if organic produce isn’t available to you right now. Eating fruits and vegetables is much better than not eating fruits and veggies just because you can’t buy organic. The bottom line is that there are some easy things you can do to minimize your exposure to pesticide residues.

Where do you buy your produce? What’s your favorite summer vegetable recipe?

Dr. Marisa Weiss

Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president and guiding force behind Breastcancer.org, the world's most trafficked online resource for medically reviewed breast health and breast cancer information, reaching over 8 million visitors per year. A breast cancer oncologist with over twenty years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing, empowering, and treating patients with breast cancer.

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