Produce and Pestcides: The Dirty Dozen and Protecting Your Children

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Are you concerned about pesticides and toxins on fruits and vegetables you eat daily? How often do you buy organic? Many fruits and vegetables available on the market are from conventional and commercial sources which use pesticides in farming practices.

It can be challenging to provide the healthiest choices for your family and stay on budget. Although organic is a good, healthy choice, there are ways to avoid the worst offenders, stay within your budget, and still eat healthy foods.

The following is a list of produce from conventional sources which contain the most and least pesticides (source, Environmental Working Group).

“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″.

15 Least Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables:

“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”.

According to Environmental Working Group:

  • People who eat the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables ingest an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who ate from the 15 least contaminated list, only ingested 2 or less pesticides a day.
  • Pesticides are known to interfere with many bodily functions, including poisoning, infertility, and birth defects. Children are especially at risk as their body proportions are smaller, they are in the growing and developing stages of life, and their metabolisms are faster which means substances travel faster in the body.

In another recent study, the effects of pesticides were studied in children and the following was found:

“Current EPA standards of exposure for some pesticides assume children are three to five times more susceptible than adults, and for other pesticides the standards assume no difference,” said Nina Holland (a principal author of the study) stated: “Our study is the first to show quantitatively that young children may be more susceptible to certain organophosphate pesticides up to age seven. Our results suggest that the EPA standards need to be re-examined to determine if they are adequately protecting the most vulnerable members of the population.”

Organophosphate pesticides are insecticides used on farms, but some are manufactured for use in the home to eliminate or repel insects such as ants, mosquitoes, cockroaches, and other pests. These purpose of these chemicals are intended to disable the nervous system of insects.  As reported by the National Pesticide Information Center, many common brands (pdf) use organophosphates in insecticides.

As with other manufactured chemicals, these are suspected as being the cause of various serious health problems in humans. In World War I, similar chemicals were created to be used as nerve gases, and may affect reproductive, brain, and other development. Some pesticides contain toxins that have been found to cause weight gain, among other health problems.

The EPA has the responsibility of pulling these products from the shelves, but often doesn’t take action until health issues have become chronic and widespread. It is not uncommon for profitable pesticides to remain on the market many, many years after damage to human and environmental health is discovered.

Here are some ways to minimize your child’s exposure to pesticides in and out of the home:

  1. At home and in garden areas, avoid the use of pesticides as much as possible, and look to Beyond Pesticides for the least-toxic method for dealing with unwanted insects and pests that invade your home.
  2. Read about the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen foods reported to contain the most pesticides, and learn about a great new resource from the Pesticide Action Network at whatsonmyfood.org. When shopping for food choose organic as much as you are able, and reduce the number of opportunities of exposure to pesticides for your children.
  3. Don’t be afraid to have discussions with school staff and administrators, friends, and neighbors and friends about habits of pesticide usage. When facing a pest problem, a safe “integrated pest management” protocol can usually achieve the same or better results as a chemical pesticide.
  4. You can make your own natural formulas at home to repel mosquitoes and other unwanted pests with the following essential oils and a good carrier oil such as coconut oil or almond oil: citronella, lemon eucalyptus, cinnamon, castor, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, clove, pennyroyal, lavender, pine, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, or geranium. You only need a few drops of oil mixed into carrier oil on your skin. Make certain your oils are labeled “food grade” or “therapeutic grade” and are suitable for topical application on the bottle. Depending on how long you are outside and perspiration, frequent re-application may be necessary.
  5. Growing your own food is a great option to be able to control how your food is produced. Gardening can take on a large or small scale production, and is a good way to save money on produce, teach your children about growing food, and reduce your exposure to pesticides. Here’s my latest post on what I’ve learned about gardening over the last few years in my own backyard.
  6. Studies done on pesticide use and effect on human health are still in the early stages. Because there are still so many things we may not know about the overall impact on health and the environment, research on your own to find out information about these chemicals and above all, err on the side of caution when it comes to exposure to risks you know are there.
  7. Shop locally as many farmers in local markets grow foods that are economical and don’t use pesticides and other dangerous chemicals.
  8. If you are unable to avoid produce with pesticides, use careful washing methods. Here’s a good home-made wash: fill a spray bottle with equal parts white vinegar and water. Spray solution onto your vegetables. Rub it in and rinse. For soft-skinned produce, fill a bowl with equal parts water and vinegar, place your produce in the bowl and soak for a minute or two, then rinse.

For more information on how to protect children from pesticides, visit the State Environmental Resource Center.

Interested in learning more about traditional foods and farming and the role they have on human health? Visit the Weston A. Price Foundation.

What are your solutions to avoiding pesticides and keeping your family healthy?

This post is part of Kelly The Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays Carnival. Please visit her site and read the other great posts there.

7 Comments

  • March 31, 2010 - 7:17 AM | Permalink

    Great reminder! One of the reasons I love to shop farmer’s markets is you can get to know the farmers. Sometimes they don’t use chemicals but don’t have the funds to be certified as organic, so it helps to do your homework.

  • March 31, 2010 - 7:25 AM | Permalink

    Hi Wendy – yes, and again, I’m really trying to help people who feel they have no choices about eating healthy and everything is too expensive. I worry that many people feel trapped in eating all processed and industrial foods with no choices and limited budgets. Again, it’s all about doing a little at a time, and doing what you can when you can. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing! :) Thanks for your comment!

  • Anita
    April 1, 2010 - 5:49 AM | Permalink

    Raine,
    Thanks for another great article. I try to grow my own vegies. I remember reading that eating commercial strawberries is really just having ‘a sweet mouthful of chemicals’, so I never buy them anymore. Just got some strawberry runners to plant- yippee;)
    Thanks for the link to Beyond Pesticides- I’m going to need that.

  • April 1, 2010 - 9:26 AM | Permalink

    Anita – yes, I avoid conventional strawberries too. It’s a shame they are so harmful because they are one of my absolute favorite fruits – and my son’s as well. But I suppose that makes them all the more special when we do get to eat them. I guess I don’t mind paying a bit more for those when we do eat them because we really eat them so seldom. I think in some cases you have to weigh the cost with the amount of times you eat something since it may be less than you would if you were able to get it more often and eat more frequently. :)

  • May 4, 2010 - 1:26 AM | Permalink

    Hi, wonderful read. I just now clicked a link to your blog and I’m already a fan.

  • Rose
    February 17, 2011 - 6:11 PM | Permalink

    I always see that sweet corn is a low-pesticide food. But is it GM? Is the pesticide part of the kernel itself?

    • February 20, 2011 - 11:14 AM | Permalink

      Hi Rose – sweet corn may be a low-pesticide food, but it wouldn’t be non-GMO unless it specifies so. However, there is much debate as to whether any corn is actually organic or non-GMO due to cross-pollination and seed contamination, which as you know is definitely one of the major issues with GMOs in our food supply. So you are buying any corn product at your own risk.

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