Since the publication of the Environmental Working Party's "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and vegetables most contaminated by pesticide, we've all become more aware of the need to avoid these foods or buy organic. But some of these foods, such as grapes or cherries are too delicious to miss, too expensive to buy organic, and too tricky to grow. In these situations, the only answer is to learn how to reduce the pesticide content.
Washing Fruit and Vegetables with Detergent
Agricultural pesticides do not come off with water alone (or farmers would not use them). Luckily, just adding washing-up liquid (detergent) to water and generously swishing the fruit or vegetables around for a couple of minutes can often lift off much of the pesticide residue. (You can test this by dipping organic grapes in water, and comparing this with dipping pesticide-laden grapes in water, and then in soapy water. The pesticide content is immediately obvious.)
Washing Produce with Vinegar
Some people swear by vinegar, and use one part vinegar to three parts water. This is great for removing bacteria, and may help break down wax, too. The editors of Cooks Illustrated magazine tested this theory by using four different methods to clean pears and apples: a vinegar and water solution (3:1, water:vinegar), antibacterial liquid soap, scrubbing with a stiff brush, and just using plain water. Not only did the vinegar mixture work the best, it was far, far better when measured for bacteria -- it removed 98% of bacteria, compared to just under 85% for scrubbing. The quickest way to do this at home is to keep a bottle of vinegar with a spray-top -- just spray the fruit or vegetables with vinegar, then rinse under a tap. If you've got longer to spare, leave fruit or vegetables soaking for 10--20 minutes in a vinegar/water solution, then rinse.
Using a Commercial Fruit Cleaner
There are many commercial fruit cleaners available on the market, some of which are made up of 100% natural produce – normally some form of citric acid. These claim to remove wax, pesticides and 99.9% of bacteria (including e.coli, salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, etc). If you avoid the ammonia-based products, and opt for these natural ones, they are safe, leave no smell or taste,
Make Your Own Fruit and Vegetable Super-cleaner
You can opt for a simple detergent- or vinegar-based wash (see above), or make a super-wash, using either of the following mixes:
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of baking soda, 1 cup (250ml) of water. Put the mixture in a spray-topped bottle. Spray the fruit or vegetables, leave to sit for 5--10 minutes, then rinse well.
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons white vinegar (distilled works best), 1 cup (250ml) water in a spray-topped bottle. Spray the fruit or vegetables, wipe and eat.
For particularly waxy fruit or vegetables, try this mixture:
- 1 cup (250ml) water, half a cup (115ml) vinegar, 1 tablespoon baking soda and dash of grapefruit seed extract. Spray this onto the produce and leave for an hour before rinsing and eating.
Peeling Your Produce
This is often the best way to substantially reduce the pesticide load, especially from apples, which are the most contaminated of all the fruits and vegetables. Pears, nectarines and peaches can also be peeled, as can many vegetables. Wash the fruit or vegetables well before peeling, or you can transfer pesticides (or bacteria) to the peeled fruit or veg.
Discarding Outer Layers
Eat only the inner layers of produce that you won't be cooking, such as lettuce and other salad vegetables (including onions). Discard the outer layers, as these will have more pesticides on them from crop spraying. Assume that the outside layer of any fruit or vegetable will have absorbed most of the pesticides (though some will have also have been absorbed from the soil), and wash/peel or discard these outer layers whenever you can.