DR. ARVIND DHOPLE: Be Wary of Pesticides in Your Produce, Even After it is Washed or Peeled

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U.S. laws and regulations for pesticides in food are weak

The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce reported that strawberries contained exceptionally high amounts of pesticide residues, with some testing positive for as many as 20 different pesticides.

Many shoppers don’t realize that pesticide residues are common on conventionally grown produce – even after it is carefully washed or peeled.

The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce reported that analysis of tests by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture found that nearly 70 percent conventionally grown fruits and vegetables contain up to 230 different pesticides or their breakdown products.

Based on these samples, the Guide found that strawberries and spinach contained the highest amounts of pesticide residues. One sample of strawberries, for example, tested positive for 20 different pesticides, and spinach contained nearly twice the pesticide residue by weight than any other fruit or vegetable.

Those two types of produce topped the Guide’s ranking of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations of pesticides, the so-called “Dirty Dozen.”

After strawberries and spinach come nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers. More than 98 percent of peaches, cherries and apples contained at least one pesticide. (The analysis applied only to produce that wasn’t grown organically).

The EWG 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce reported that more than 98 percent of non-organically grown peaches, cherries and apples contained at least one pesticide.

How dangerous is the exposure to the chemicals? Since federal laws in 1996 mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study and regulate pesticide use for its potential to harm human health, many toxic chemicals have been removed from crop growing.

But studies continue to find potential effects of exposure to the pesticides still in use. A recent study, for instance, indicated a possible link between exposure to pesticides in produce and lower fertility.

As disturbing as these results are, they do not violate the weak U.S. laws and regulations for pesticides in food.

More studies are needed to solidify the relationship between current pesticide exposures from produce and long-term health effects. In the meantime, researchers say that organic produce generally contains fewer pesticide residues, and people concerned about their exposure can also focus on fruits and vegetables that tend to contain fewer pesticides.

If you want to avoid pesticides in produce, the EWG advises that you always buy organically grown berries, and makes the same recommendation for other Dirty Dozen foods.

To avoid pesticides in produce, the EWG advises that you always buy organically grown berries, and makes the same recommendation for other Dirty Dozen foods.

Here is the Guide’s list of the fruits and vegetables lowest in pesticide residue, the so called “Clean 15”:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Papayas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplants
  • Honeydews
  • Kiwis
  • Cantaloupes
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli

Dr. Arvind Dhople is currently Professor Emeritus at Florida Tech and a free-lance writer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Arvind Dhople graduated from the University of Bombay and then joined Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then Asst. Professor. In 1980, he joined Florida Tech as a Professor and Director of their Infectious Diseases Lab. His specialty is microbial biochemistry and he performed research in leprosy and tuberculosis. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and has published nearly 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has also served as an advisor to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, German Leprosy Relief Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus at Florida Tech and a free-lance writer. 

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