As temperatures warm across the country and people start thinking about putting away their sweaters for the year, it’s not uncommon for thoughts to also turn to fresher, lighter foods. Salads and fresh fruit start taking the place of pot roasts, chili, and other heavier winter favorites as our diets make way for the bright and fresh flavors of the warm seasons.
Unfortunately, those fresh foods can also carry extraordinarily high levels of pesticide residue.
The Environmental Working Group has released its list of the Dirty Dozen; or the foods it says carry the highest levels of toxic residues on their surfaces and skins. Strawberries top this year’s list, followed by spinach and kale – perhaps a surprising addition. It would seem that as the popularity and demand for the vegetable has grown, so has the level of exposure it is causing for those who eat it.
According to a post on USA Today, the EWG’s study of a variety of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and kale showed residue for at least two separate pesticides on all samples. At the same time, more than one sample of kale showed the presence of nearly 20 pesticides. The organization released statistics in its latest 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce that indicated “nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residue.” The report goes on to recommend that consumers eat organic produce whenever possible.
The idea of eating organic; that is, eating produce that has been grown without the use of any additional chemicals or pesticides, is nothing new. It is, however, still a more expensive option and can be difficult for consumers who face a tight budget when perusing the aisles of their local grocery store. Just seven percent of the fresh fruit sold in the U.S. last year qualified as organic, while only 11 percent of the vegetables sold met the same standard.
While eating organically can be more expensive, compromise is possible. Foods in which the entire fruit or vegetable are consumed – skin and all – will generally have the highest levels of pesticide exposure. Conversely, those foods that reside in husks or inedible skins like pineapples, melons, fresh corn on the cob, and avocados, will expose consumers to the lowest levels of residues. Buying organic for the fruits and vegetables that are eaten whole and non-organic for the foods that don’t involve eating the outer skins and husks can focus spending where it matters most.
Regardless, organic or not, it’s always a good idea to wash and rinse your produce thoroughly before eating it. For more information on this year’s EWG Dirty Dozen, visit their website here.