Pesticides in Your Food: How To Avoid the Worst Culprits

Do you ever stand in the fruit and vegetable section of your food store and wonder if it’s really worth it to buy organic produce? Or do you wonder which conventionally grown items you can buy to save money and which items you should absolutely buy organic? I sure do. And I always resent standing there at the market, having to choose between a piece of fruit that has been exposed to chemicals and one that hasn’t. Who should have to make a choice like that? Especially if you are taking that food home to your children. No one wants to eat poison.

The good news is that there is a free resource that can help you make sound food selections (your budget not withstanding). Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington DC-based advocacy group has a handy Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides on its website. They update the list annually. You can also download their free iPhone application so you always have the list with you.

EWG says that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.

Foods with the highest pesticide levels:

1. Peach

2. Apple

3. Sweet bell pepper

4. Celery

5. Nectarine

6. Strawberry

7. Cherry

8. Kale

9. Lettuce

10. Grapes (imported)

11. Carrot

12. Pear

The EWG website provides much more specific information about the pesticide loads of these fruits and vegetables. For example, about fruits, it notes that “nectarines had the highest percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (97.3 percent), followed by peaches (96.7 percent) and apples (94.1 percent).” About vegetables, the website reports that “celery had the highest of percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (94.1 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (81.5 percent) and carrots (82.3 percent).

The good ones, with the least amount of pesticide

1. Onion

2. Avocado

3. Sweet corn-frozen

4. Pineapple

5. Mango

6. Asparagus

7. Sweet peas-frozen

8. Kiwi

9. Cabbage

10. Eggplant

11. Papaya

12. Watermelon

13. Broccoli

14. Tomato

15. Sweet potato

The EWG website says, “Over half of the tomatoes (53.1 percent), broccoli (65.2 percent), eggplant (75.4 percent), cabbage (82.1 percent), and sweet pea (77.1 percent) samples had no detectable pesticides. Among the other three vegetables on the least-contaminated list (asparagus, sweet corn, and onion), there were no detectable residues on 90 percent or more of the samples.”

In a related development, Canadian scientists have developed a quick and cheap “dipstick” test to detect small amounts of pesticides in food and drink. Their paper-strip test is more practical than conventional pesticide tests, they say, producing results in minutes rather than hours by means of a test strip that changes color depending on the amount of pesticide present.  In tests on food contaminated with common pesticides, the test strips produced results in less than five minutes. The scientists, who published their study in the November 1 issue of Analytical Chemistry, said the strips might be very helpful in developing countries or remote areas.

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Environmental Working Group, “Reagentless Bidirectional Lateral Flow Bioactive Paper Sensors for Detection of Pesticides in Beverage and Food Samples”

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