Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shopping Informed or Ignorant-Your Choice

If you are interested in what's not good for you on the fruits and vegetables in your market there is a new edition off the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, it now includes the latest government data. This handy guide shows you the fruits and veggies with the most and least pesticides, so you know which to always buy organic and which are pretty clean even when conventionally grown. You need to try and always buy organic but it is not always available or practical to do so. If you have to buy conventional produce then you might consider washing them with a mild solution of vinegar and water before you use them. Just make a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water and put it in a spray bottle you can keep by the sink. Water works but the acidity of the vinegar will help remove a little more of the contaminants and it helps with bacteria as well. The danger spots on most fruits are the stem and flower areas so give those an especially good scrub.

Never, ever forget that the government said that highly toxic pesticides like DDT, chlordane, dursban and others were safe right up to the day the EPA banned them.

If you want, you can also sign up to get the EWG's newsletter Farm & Food via email. The newsletter will keep you informed of the latest developments in food safety.

According to the EWG's latest testing the worst offenders are:

Consistent with two previous EWG investigations, fruits topped the list of the consistently most contaminated fruits and vegetables, with seven of the 12 most contaminated foods. The seven were peaches leading the list, then apples, nectarines and strawberries, cherries, and imported grapes, and pears. Among these seven fruits:

  • Nectarines had the highest percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (97.3 percent), followed by peaches (96.7 percent) and apples (94.1 percent).
  • Peaches had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single sample - 87.0 percent had two or more pesticide residues — followed by nectarines (85.3 percent) and apples (82.3 percent).
  • Peaches and apples had the most pesticides detected on a single sample, with nine pesticides on a single sample, followed by strawberries and imported grapes where eight pesticides were found on a single sample of each fruit.
  • Peaches had the most pesticides overall, with some combination of up to 53 pesticides found on the samples tested, followed by apples with 50 pesticides and strawberries with 38.

Sweet bell peppers, celery, kale, lettuce, and carrots are the vegetables most likely to expose consumers to pesticides. Among these five vegetables:

  • Celery had the highest of percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (94.1 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (81.5 percent) and carrots (82.3 percent).
  • Celery also had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single vegetable (79.8 percent of samples), followed by sweet bell peppers (62.2 percent) and kale (53.1 percent).
  • Sweet bell peppers had the most pesticides detected on a single sample (11 found on one sample), followed by kale (10 found on one sample), then lettuce and celery (both with nine).
  • Sweet bell peppers were the vegetable with the most pesticides overall, with 64, followed by lettuce with 57 and carrots with 40.
According to the latest EWG studies the least contaminated are:

The vegetables least likely to have pesticides on them are onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

  • Over half of the tomatoes (53.1 percent), broccoli (65.2 percent), eggplant (75.4 percent), cabbage (82.1 percent), and sweet pea (77.1 percent) samples had no detectable pesticides. Among the other three vegetables on the least-contaminated list (asparagus, sweet corn, and onions), there were no detectable residues on 90 percent or more of the samples.
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on any of these least contaminated vegetables. Tomatoes had the highest likelihood, with a 13.5 percent chance of more than one pesticide when ready to eat. Onions and corn both had the lowest chance with zero samples containing more than one pesticide.
  • The greatest number of pesticides detected on a single sample of any of these low-pesticide vegetables was five (as compared to 11 found on sweet bell peppers, the vegetable with the most residues on a single sample).
  • Broccoli had the most pesticides found on a single type of vegetable, with up to 28 pesticides, but far fewer than the most contaminated vegetable, sweet bell peppers, on which 64 were found.

The fruits least likely to have pesticide residues on them are avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, papayas, watermelon and grapefruit.

  • Fewer than 10 percent of pineapple, mango, and avocado samples had detectable pesticides on them, and fewer than one percent of samples had more than one pesticide residue.
  • Though 54.5 percent of grapefruit had detectable pesticides, multiple residues are less common, with only 17.5 percent of samples containing more than one residue. Watermelon had residues on 28.1 percent of samples, and just 9.6 percent had multiple pesticide residues.
If you are interested in more information go over the EWG Foodnews site and wander around.
For those of you that need some additional information there is some information available from Uncle Sam.

U.S. EPA. 2002. Protecting Children from Pesticides.

U.S. EPA. 2008a. Pesticides and Food: Why Children May be Especially Sensitive to Pesticides.

U.S. EPA. 2008b. Pesticides: Health and Safety. Assessing Pesticide Cumulative Risk

U.S. EPA. 2008c. Pesticides: Health and Safety. Human Health Issues.

U.S. EPA. 2009. Pesticide Industry Sales and Usage [accessed February 24 2009].

US EPA. 2006. Accomplishments under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA).

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