How to Wash Off Pesticides From Fruits and Vegetables

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Living in a winter climate, we do not have certain organic fruits readily available at our local health food store (i.e. blueberries). I try to incorporate blueberries in my daily diet, considering they contain essential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as keeping my memory sharp. Substituting frozen blueberries doesn’t always taste the same as wild blueberries. My question is, by soaking non-organic blueberries in vinegar for a period of time, would this remove contaminants and pesticides? Also, would it remove the nutrients in the blueberries?

An Answer from Dr. Doug

Unfortunately, substituting conventional produce for organic is sometimes necessary, especially in colder climates like Canada where the selection of organic produce available tends to decrease in the winter. While organic is preferable, you can always check the EWG’s ranked list of the most pesticide-saturated produce to see which fruits and veggies are alright and which would be better avoided.

But, since blueberries don’t appear on that list, what should we do? I personally go for frozen organic blueberries in the winter. I’m mostly using them in smoothies, so the subtle changes of texture and flavor caused by freezing aren’t as noticeable.

As for cleaning pesticides from fruit, there are a few ideas people have come up with. Because pesticides are intentionally formulated to stay on during wet weather, they do not rinse off easily. Running your fruit under the tap for a few seconds is probably removing very little. I’ve read about conventional farmers going so far as to use bleach to rid leafy crops of residues (I don’t know if I would recommend this).

The Vinegar Method
Although I haven’t seen any studies on how to remove pesticides from fruits and veg (and I’ve looked), there are a few ideas I’ve come across in the past. As you mentioned, a lot of people seem to be of the opinion that diluted, distilled vinegar will remove harmful pesticides and fungicides from food. The general rule is to mix equal parts of white vinegar and water, allow produce to soak in the mixture for a few minutes and then rinse. I suppose the idea here is that the acidic vinegar will break down the waxy substance used to bind the pesticide to the fruit. Although soaking fruits or vegetables in water will leech out some of the nutrients, the overall effect is minimal.

The Soap and Water Method
I’ve been known to suds up an apple or lemon with soap and water before eating it. Remember to thoroughly rinse it before eating if you’re employing this technique, not just to get rid of the soapy taste, but the pesticide residue will still be in the suds. Soap can also be used in a soak, similar to the vinegar method. I’ve read of people using a very diluted solution of mild dish-washing detergent (about one teaspoon of detergent per four liters of water) and soaking produce in it for a few minutes.

The Hydrogen Peroxide Method
Another possibility is to use hydrogen peroxide. You can get a 3% solution from any drug store, usually in the first aid section. There are also specially formulated vegetable washes you can find at the health food store, or even some grocery stores. I don’t know how effective — or expensive — these washes are.

Remember that any method you use isn’t going to get rid of all the nasty stuff on your food. Because pesticides and fungicides sit on the produce for so long, a great deal of the harmful compounds make their way into the fruit or vegetable. Also, produce picks up some of these compounds from the contaminated soil in which it is grown (this is one reason organic certification requires a field be free of conventional farming practices for seven years before anything grown on the field can be considered organic).

The unfortunate thing about these cleaning methods is that it isn’t easy for us to detect how much of the pesticides and fungicides are being removed from the food. For this reason, it’s nearly impossible to determine which method is best. Pesticide residues can be detected in science labs relatively easily using chromatography, but I don’t think anyone has the equipment in their house.

What do you say science? Maybe a little experiment in effective pesticide removal is in order. I think people want to know.

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