Pesky Pesticides, and what to do about them

Several years ago, my husband and I attended a cooking class in a wealthy area on Long Island. Our guess was that the other attendees probably had lots and lots of money, so we felt a little out of place, to say the least. This became apparent when I asked the teacher this question: “Which foods should I buy organic and which can I buy regular to save money?” She looked like she didn’t understand my question. “Oh, I buy everything organic,” was her only reply.

In spite of this miscommunication, this truth remains: buying organic is expensive. It leaves many of us standing in produce aisles at the grocery store caught in conundrums about whether we should buy the strawberries on sale and save cash or spend the $3 to spare our families the extra exposure to pesticides. It’s no fun.

Fortunately, there are some practical steps we can take to attain that balance between budget and health. Here’s what we can do about it…

TIP #1: Know Where the Pesticides Are (and are not!)

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes their lists called “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean Fifteen.” My Dad had the excellent idea to add these to my phone so I can easily reference them when in the grocery store.

The Dirty Dozen (as of 2019) comprises the worst pesticide offenders:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

And here is their list of the least contaminated produce known as the Clean Fifteen:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn (Note: could be GMO)
  3. Pineapples
  4. Sweet peas, frozen
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas (Note: could be GMO)
  7. eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Mangoes
  12. Cauliflower
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Broccoli
  15. Mushrooms

So, keeping these lists handy will help you decide which types of produce to try to buy organic when opportunity and budget allow, and when you can go ahead and save your dollars.

TIP #2: Wash contaminated produce with…wait for it…BAKING SODA!

As I perused the Dirty Dozen List I realized how often I buy these contaminated items and simply rinsed them under water. Alas, this probably does very little to save me from ingesting problematic chemicals. Some quick searching showed me that some common pantry items can help rid us of the risk: vinegar, salt, or baking soda all have been shown to remove most of the residual contamination. Simply dilute any of those ingredients in water, soak your produce, and feel proud of your choices!

Of those three, baking soda both proved most effective and had the least impact on the flavor (Vinegar-soaked Strawberries? Blechk). This Food Revolution blog has some helpful tips on washing different types of produce, but the gist is to dilute about a teaspoon of baking soda in a large bowl of water and soak your greens and smooth-skinned fruits for at least 2 minutes and up to 20.

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