Ask EWG: How should I wash my fruits and veggies?

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Question: How should I wash my fruits and veggies? Is water enough, or should I be using one of those bottled produce washes they sell in the supermarket?

Answer: There are three reasons to wash your produce: Soil, microbes, and pesticides. No one likes biting into a gritty salad, and the problems connected with contaminated produce have been well publicized. Pesticides are designed to be toxic, and their effects on people aren’t well understood, so it’s best to avoid them when you can.

The Food and Drug Administration advises against using soap or commercial produce washes, because they haven’t evaluated the safety of residues that could be left on produce and because the effectiveness of produce washes is not standardized. They recommend washing all produce thoroughly in cold water. Whether you bought it in the grocery store or at the farmers’ market, or even if you grew it yourself, you should wash it carefully. You should even wash produce that you’re going to peel. Scrub firm produce, like cucumbers and potatoes, with a stiff-bristled brush. You don’t have to wash produce that comes in a sealed bag marked “pre-washed,” but an extra rinse won’t hurt. Always cut off bruised or damaged sections.

But washing your fruits and veggies, with or without a commercial produce wash, won’t get rid of all of the pesticide residues on them. When testing for pesticides, the FDA washes and peels fruits and veggies just like you would, and more than 93 percent of the conventionally grown apples tested still had pesticides on them after being washed. There’s a growing consensus in the scientific community that these low-level exposures, especially during fetal development and childhood, can have lasting effects.

The best way to minimize your exposure to toxic pesticides is to wash your fruits and veggies thoroughly in cold water, eat a varied diet, and buy organic produce whenever possible. Prioritize your spending on organic by buying the foods your family eats the most often, and those on the Dirty Dozen list, organic.

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Photo: Fernando on Flickr (license).

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