How can I reduce my family's exposure to pesticide on fruit and vegetables?

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients and a wonderful summer snack for children; however, they can also contain large levels of pesticides. Here are some suggestions on ways to cut back on the pesticides your family is exposed to through produce:
  • Thanks to an increase in demand in recent years, most stores and markets now offer USDA Certified Organic produce. Buying organic is your best bet to assure that your produce is chemical-free.
  • Local produce should be favored.
  • If organic produce is unavailable or exorbitantly priced, there are still ways to reduce the amount of chemicals in the food you purchase. Food that must be transported large distances is often picked unripe, chemically ripened, and loaded with preservatives for trip to its final destination.
  • Buy produce known to contain fewer pesticides -- not all produce is created equal. According to the Environmental Working Group, produce known to contain the highest pesticide risk per serving are (from high to low): peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrots, and pears. If there are no organic options for the produce with the highest pesticide levels, then choose from the list of cleaner alternatives. Those that are cleanest (lowest in pesticide risk per serving) include: onions, avocados, sweet corn (frozen), pineapples, mangos, asparagus, sweet peas (frozen), kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
  • Wash all produce under running water. Running water has an abrasive effect that soaking does not have and will remove most surface waxes and pesticide residues, along with dirt and bacteria. Peeling fruits and vegetables also removes surface residues. (Remember that some nutrients may be lost in peeling.)
Alan Greene, MD

Fruits and veggies often come packing more pesticides than we would like. In this video, pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene gives expert advice on how to reduce your family's pesticide exposure.

Clifford W. Bassett, MD
Allergy & Immunology
The Environmental Working Group has published a list of a variety of fruits and vegetables that consumers need to take notice of as they have "softer" skin that may lead to greater absorption of up to 67 different pesticides (chemicals used to prevent pests and diseases on plant foods we eat). This list was based on testing for pesticides even after the fruits were washed well.

They further suggested that a consumer might be able to limit exposure by up to 80% just by purchasing organic fruits and vegetables without pesticides. In fact, the President's Cancer Panel has issued guidelines that Americans who consume fresh fruits and vegetables try and get produce that is grown without chemical pesticides to lower risk of cancer.

Try and reduce your exposure to these foods whenever possible:
  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Imported grapes
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers
  • Cherries
It is important to know that not every fruit will have a lot of pesticides in it. Here are some choice fruits and vegetables that contain significantly less chemical pesticides:
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Asparagus
  • Corn
  • Onions
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Mango
  • Eggplant

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.