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Veggie Tales: Which are the most contaminated by pesticides?


Publisher: Seventh Generation, December 1, 2003

Mother always told us to eat our vegetables, but weíre betting she didnít realize that some of them could be contaminated by pesticide residues. Thatís not a completely unexpected development given the vast amounts of chemicals that are used on our nationís conventionally-grown food crops. But what may surprise you is the fact that when it comes to pesticide levels on produce, not all fruits and veggies are created equal. Some are healthier than others and weíve got that list right here.

Marking the one year anniversary of the enactment of the national organic standards, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released the results of a new study that examined the pesticide residues on conventionally grown produce. EWG researchers examined over 100,000 federal government pesticide residue test results taken over the last decade and found that 192 different chemicals could be found in varying amounts on 46 common fruits and vegetables.

The EWG measured the pesticide contamination it found in six different ways. The final list ranked the worst offenders to the healthiest choices and was created by combining six measurements into one overall score for each food. The six measures of contamination the EGW used were:
  • The percent of the foodís samples that had detectable pesticides

  • The percent of the foodís samples with two or more pesticides

  • The average number of pesticides found on each sample

  • The average amount (in parts per million) of all pesticides found

  • The maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample

  • The total number of individual pesticides found on the food in total


According to the EWG, a simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose themselves to an average of almost 20 pesticides per day. On the other hand, eating the 12 least contaminated kinds of produce will expose a person to just over 2 pesticides per day. As a result, EWG experts advise that consumers either avoid the 12 most contaminated foods or buy organic varieties.

Here are the high and low scorers in the EWG study:

The 12 Most Contaminated Types of Produce (from most to least contaminated):
  • Peaches

  • Strawberries

  • Apples

  • Spinach

  • Nectarines

  • Celery

  • Pears

  • Cherries

  • Potatoes

  • Bell Peppers

  • Red Raspberries

  • Imported Grapes

The 12 Least Contaminated Types of Produce (from most to least contaminated):

  • Papaya

  • Kiwi

  • Bananas

  • Broccoli

  • Onions

  • Asparagus

  • Sweet Peas

  • Mangos

  • Cauliflower

  • Pineapples

  • Avocados

  • Sweet Corn


  • Regardless of where your favorite fruits and vegetables fall on the EWG list, all conventional produce should be washed before being prepared and eaten. If done properly, washing will remove some, though not all, of the pesticide residues a food contains. It can make your food healthier but wonít eradicate the contamination. The following guidelines will help you get your food as clean as possible:
    • Use a glass bowl or your sink for cleaning. The stuff youíre removing will leave behind residues of its own. Glass bowls and sinks are much easier to clean than plastic.

    • Most pesticides are oil-based, so youíll need some soap for the job. Your choices include products like Clean Greens and other washes specifically formulated for the purpose, and all-natural, vegetable based soaps like Dr. Bronnerís. Donít use synthetic dish liquids or other similar products.

    • Fill the bowl with lukewarm to warm to even semi-hot water. The temperature you choose will depend on the fragility of the produce youíre cleaning and whether or not you intend to cook it. Generally, the warmer the water, the more effective the cleaning will be, so donít be afraid to add a little heat if the produce youíre cleaning can take it.

    • Add a teaspoon of soap, agitate the water until it gets sudsy, add the produce, and soak it for 15 minutes or so. Use less time for thin-skinned foods like berries, more for hard skinned foods like celery.

    • After soaking, use a good vegetable brush to scrub produce that will tolerate it as aggressively as possible. Some foods will tolerate this scrubbing better than others. Hard skinned foods like peppers and apples, for example, are clearly easier to wash than soft-skinned foods like strawberries or peaches. These and other delicate items like greens will have to get by with just the soaking and some agitation in the water because they wonít be able to take the scrubbing action without damage.

    • Rinse the food thoroughly in as warm water as possible, and place it on a rack or other surface to dry. Or use a salad spinner for faster results.

    • Scrub clean whatever container you used. Youíve just washed off some nasty stuff, and a good cleaning gets it out of your kitchen for good.

    • Any produce that can be peeled should be peeled prior to use. This will ensure that the maximum amount of contaminants are removed. But even food youíre planning to peel, from bananas to eggplants, should be washed first because you can easily transfer pesticide residues from the skin to the edible portions inside during peeling if washing is skipped.

    For more information about the EWG study, including a complete rankings chart and a useful wallet-size shopperís guide that consumers can use to reduce their pesticide residue intake by up to 90%, visit http://www.foodnews.org/.



    This article originally appeared in "The Non-Toxic Times," an e-newsletter published by Seventh Generation. Each month, Seventh Generation researches their extensive library and network of experts to bring you important tips, resources and news about the issues that affect the health of your home, family and the environment.

    Seventh Generation offers a full selection of non-toxic household products for a clean home, a healthy family, and a safer world. They are committed to providing products that perform as well as conventional products, and are also safe and environmentally responsible. For valuable coupons and to subscribe to their e-newsletter, "The Non-Toxic Times," visit www.seventhgeneration.com
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