Saturday, June 23, 2012

The New Dirty Dozen plus Produce Wash

Hooray! It's that magical time of year when we get to find out which veggies are most likely to poison us! I know that maybe you're thinking ignorance is bliss here but I promise you it's not.  Each year the EWG come out with new ratings for the 45 most common fruits and veggies.  You can find the new list here.  The worst offenders are labeled as The Dirty Dozen.

If the people who apply the pesticides need this kind of gear maybe we shouldn't be putting it on things we are going to eat.  Think about this statement from the EWG's methodology page:

"Since researchers are constantly developing new insights into how pesticides act on living organisms, no one can say that concentrations of pesticides assumed today to be safe are, in fact, harmless."

Um, really? You think? I'm gonna have to say I'm positive they are harmful.  Google "pesticides and health" and see what you come up with.  They have been linked to all kinds of health problems including cancer, damaging the nervous system, reproductive issues and birth defects to name a few.  This shouldn't really come as a surprise since they are designed to kill living things right? 

And guess what else? Our kids are even more susceptible.  Even the EPA has a page entitled "Why Children May be Especially Sensitive to Pesticides." They include the fact that little ones are still developing, they have higher exposure to the ground and environment and the fact that they eat and drink a higher percentage of their body weight compared to adults.  I'd also add that they are even more exposed to higher quantities of pesticides than any previous generation simply because pesticides are so prevalent these days.

So why is it ok to put this stuff on our foods?  It's not! That's the only answer I have.  We buy almost exclusively organic foods these days.  I do make some exceptions when it comes to fruits or veggies on the Clean 15 list as long as we don't eat them in large quantities.

I find it helpful to understand how the EWG came up with their ratings.  Maybe that's just me but I have to know the "how." The first thing you'll want to know is that the majority of the data is based off of washed or peeled fruit or veggies.  So basically they are testing samples that have already been prepared for consumption.  Sorry, you can't use the excuse that you peel your fruit before eating. Below is the list of the different ways they measured contamination.

Percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
Percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides
Average number of pesticides found on a single sample
Average amount (in parts per million) of all pesticides found
Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
Total number of pesticides found on the commodity

These categories were all rated equally when it came time to rack and stack the produce.  This may be important to you if you are more concerned with the levels of pesticides than the number per sample.  It may not be a perfect system but at least the information is getting out there.

Also new this year is a "bonus" category- and not in a good way.  Green beans, kale and collards are the lucky contestants that didn't qualify for the dirty dozen but tested positive for a group of pesticides that are especially harmful to the nervous system: organophosphates.  These pesticides cause damage the nervous system that is irreversible.  So please choose the organic options when eating these.

Hopefully I haven't scared you off yet.  I can tell you I was totally freaked out when I first saw this list a couple years ago.  But even seeing these results wasn't enough for me to quit buying conventional blueberries cold turkey (they're rated #11 this year). It took a while for me to transition and that's ok. Sometimes a paradigm shift takes a while.  Here are some steps you can take in the right direction.

  • Don't buy conventional fruits and veggies listed in the Dirty Dozen.  These are the most contaminated produce and should be avoided at all costs.
  • Buy non-organic product from local farmers who don't use pesticides.  Check out your local farms and ask questions.  There are many farms that may not be organically certified but they don't spray pesticides.
  • Buy and eat more of the cheaper organic foods.  Maximize your food budget by choosing the cheaper organic options.  This means eating local and in season foods.
  • If you can't find it organically, just don't eat it.  Sometimes this can be hard but be open to substituting.  Just choose another fruit or veggie instead.
  • Soak and rinse everything!  It's important to do this with both conventional and organic produce.  More on this below.
  • Grow your own produce.  The best way to be sure you know what's on your food is to grow it yourself.  While everyone doesn't have room for a giant garden, even someone in an apartment can grow some small veggies or herbs.

The EWG also reviewed baby food this year and found pesticides.  You can check out their summary here.  If you buy conventional baby food you should check it out.

So you say you'd like to wash those pesticides off now? Great, I've got you covered.  Soaking your fruits and veggies is actually much more effective than just rinsing.  So if you can, fill up your sink and let them sit.  Soak your conventional produce separately from your organic goods.  Yes, you need to wash your organic goodies too. Even though it wasn't sprayed with those nasty conventional pesticides it can still be contaminated by all kinds of germs, chemicals from air pollution or fumes from transport, and the "natural" pesticides approved for organic farming.

Produce Wash

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp baking soda

Ingredients can either be added to a sink full of water to soak produce or used in a spray bottle diluted with water.
Note: please use organic ingredients to make your veggie wash.  Cleaning your produce with pesticides kind of defeats the purpose.

I'd also like to throw out there that eating fruits and vegetables is very important.  No one should limit their consumption of these because of the pesticide risks.  What we should do is make smart choices with which produce we do eat.


  1. Do you wash all your fruits and veggies when you get home from the store, or do you just wash before using? I like the spray bottle idea. Thank you!

    1. I like to soak them when I get home but this doesn't always happen. I try to soak no matter what but if I haven't planned ahead I'll just use the produce wash and scrub away!