I wish I could tell you that everything I eat is organic and locally sourced, but that’s just not the case. If I had my pick, that’s the way it would be but it’s not always possible.
This is the reality for many folks out there. So why does this matter and what can we do about it?
Is Organic Produce Really Superior?
Ideally, organic produce is sprayed with little to no pesticides. Pesticides are powerful, potent chemicals designed to kill bugs and ward off pests (think: causes their stomachs to explode).
Once sprayed onto produce, the pesticides can become “systemic”, going directly into the plant. In addition, some genetically modified foods (GMOs) actually have pesticides genetically engineered into them as a part of their makeup.
So, these sneaky things can be hard to completely avoid, even if you do wash your produce…but it’s definitely worth getting rid of what you can.
Asthma, Cancer, Endocrine Disruptors, Oh My!
A friend of mine lives next to a blackberry farm and her children are not allowed to play outside when they are “spraying”. Why? Because, yes, pesticides are that harmful to ingest. In fact, they can trigger asthmatic episodes and may lead to cancer!
“Although the evidence is less clear, some highly hazardous pesticides may also affect the immune system, and some obsolete pesticides may cause cancer, including childhood cancer.” – Word Health Organization
“Chronic, low-level exposures can affect the skin, eyes, nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract and liver, kidneys, reproductive system and blood.
Recent research has examined the effect that some pesticides may have on the endocrine (hormone) systems of children. Such endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs can mimic or inhibit normal hormones, which may affect the physical and neurological development of children and adolescents. -World Health Organization
Anyways, pesticides are viewed as a necessary evil. They’re a cheap, easy, effective way to ward off pests…for now. However, the pesticides we use and abuse are creating super bugs and super pests. We simply can’t outsmart nature.
Who Is Taking The Hit?
For most of us, who maybe can’t always afford or source organic, it’s a pretty big deal. We are the ones suffering the health consequences just so we can eat our fruits and veggies.
Incidentally, we are also the ones who might not be able to “afford” sickness quite the way someone who can always afford organic might.
I believe eating non-organic produce is better than choosing packaged foods. The benefits still outweigh the risks in my mind (though, of course, it’s not perfect). There is some political controversy over “Organic Labeling”. If you do your research, you will find that the government makes companies pay an arm and a leg for that certification, but they do very little follow up to monitor whether organic protocols are indeed being used.
Another good source for information on this topic is the documentary, “In Organic We Trust“.
Manage what IS in your control, at least give it a good wash.
Where Has That Apple Been?
The apple was once on a tree and now it’s in your hand. What happened in between?
Did you know that most apples are stored in a warehouse for months to a year or more before they make their way to you?
The waxy film placed on the outside helps to keep apples preserved for longer storing capabilities. So they go high up on shelves, in boxes, in warehouses until they are ready to go to your local grocery store.
Once the apples reach the grocery, a few employees accidentally dump over an entire box. The apples tumble to the ground and the employees are instructed to place the apples back in the box or back on the shelves as it is up to consumers to wash their produce.
I used to get so embarrassed when my mom would open clamshells of cherry tomatoes at the grocery and feel around on them to test their ripeness. Well, guess what? Now that I know food better–and how important it is to see, smell, feel and touch it…I do the same thing and you should too.
So, you CAN assume your apple lived in a warehouse for a while. You can assume a few people man handled your blueberries or cherry tomatoes. You can also assume they may have toppled over in the back of the grocery store next to the restroom.
We trust. Think about the E.Coli outbreaks and deaths with spinach a few years back.
Sometimes there are long work hours and not enough restrooms close by or proper hand washing equipment. Things happen.
We blindly do a lot of trusting when it comes to our food. We expect that every thing and every person handled it with the utmost care before it reaches our mouth. Not the case.
So, just do this one little extra step if you aren’t growing your own food (which is the only real way to be sure these days).
Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen
Each year, the Environmental Working Group studies pesticide residue and filthiness of fruits and vegetables. They make a list called “The Dirty Dozen” which showcases the foods that exhibit the highest pesticide load (did you know this year, one strawberry had residue from 20 different pesticides!?).
Thankfully, they also create a list called “The Clean 15” which helps us to learn which produce items are LEAST likely to be covered in pesticides, therefore less risky to buy “non-organically”.
Keep in mind, some of these foods on the clean fifteen are genetically modified (like corn and papayas, meaning while there is no residue on the outside, there is very likely some naturally bred into the plant).
Different Washing Methods & Recipes:
There are several different methods for washing produce. Here are the ones I’ve found that I like best (mostly from Rodale’s Organic Life)! However, you can easily search the internet and find many options available, usually boasting ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda and peroxide.
Greens are the most likely to contain bugs and bacteria like E.Coli. Cooks Illustrated found that this was the most potent wash for killing germs (killing about 98%!). I found this recipe on Rodale’s Organic Life, and I really like it!
-1 cup of distilled white vinegar
-3 cups water
-2 Tablespoons of Salt if you want to kick it up a notch
Place water, vinegar and greens into a bowl or your sink basin and let them soak for about two minutes, then rinse them well. Pat dry or use salad spinner and return to fridge.
Add two tablespoons of salt if you want super-germ fighting capabilities. “A study in the Journal of Food Protection found that vinegar’s ability to kill E. coli bacteria was “significantly enhanced” when salt was added to the mix.”
Super Simple Veggie Wash
-1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice
-1 Tablespoon of Baking Soda
-1 Cup of Water
Put all ingredients into spray bottle, swirl it around gently to stir (it may foam a little, so don’t get too aggressive). Spray on your veggies, let sit for about 2-5 minutes and then rinse. Dry produce and return to fridge for optimal freshness.
Super Germ Killer (Also Doubles As Counter Top Cleaner)
-One Spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar
-One Spray Bottle of Undiluted Hydrogen Peroxide
Spray food items first with vinegar and then with hydrogen peroxide. Rinse thoroughly.
According to Rodale’s Organic Life, “You can use this on produce or on raw meat to kill E. coli, Listeria, and salmonella bacteria, according to a study in Food Microbiology. You can also use the mixture to disinfect your countertops. Alternately, spray the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide on a surface, then let it dry. Don’t rinse or wipe the surfaces down afterwards.”
Other Methods of Washing Produce
I too have heard of the tried and true dish soap, bleach, and fruit and veggie washes.
The thing is, when you use these chemicals, just like the pesticides, they can sink into the pores of the fruit and systemically become part of the fruit, so can the detergents.
In fact, even the FDA “does not recommend the use of soap, detergent, or commercial produce washes.”
Take Home Lesson
No, none of us can completely avoid pesticides (or bacteria) unless we are handling our food from seed to fruit. So, just take this one extra precautionary measure and wash your produce. It could make all the difference ;).