Huffpost Green

Pesticides On Foods Aren't Going Away Anytime Soon, But Here's What You Can Do About It

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This morning, the Hawaiian island of Kauai passed a bill strictly limiting how and where large farms and biotech companies can spray pesticides. Bill 2491 will force agricultural companies to disclose when and where they spray pesticides, restrict spraying to a certain distance away from public areas, and disclose what genetically engineered crops they grow.

Perhaps Bill 2491 will be the beginning of a movement across the United States to further limit pesticide use, which, according to a report published in Environmental Sciences Europe last year, increased by 404 million pounds from 1996 to 2011.

Until then, the sad truth is pesticides are everywhere: the air, the water, and your food, and they’ve been linked to birth defects, poisoning deaths and a wide range of illnesses.

So here are some reminders on how to mitigate the pesticides covering your fruit and vegetables, and which produce are the most (and least!) pesticide-residue prone.

1. Wash Your Food, All of It, and Wash It Right
wash produce
Thoroughly wash all your produce. No, rubbing the apple on your shirt before biting in is not enough. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, even organic foods and foods that you peel should first be washed. The NPIC recommends that you wash your produce under running water rather than dunking or soaking it. Scrub produce with tough skin, like melons or potatoes. In addition, dry your fruits and vegetables with a towel.

2. Stick With The Insides
peeled potato
Whenever possible, peel your fruits and vegetables. Residue can get stuck in the crevices of peels and be difficult to remove. Toss the outside layer of leafy vegetables. Even with meat, it is best to cut off the excess fat and skin, which could have absorbed pesticide residue.

3. Mix It Up
vegetable stand
The NPIC suggests eating a variety of fruits and vegetables so as to prevent overexposure to a single pesticide. You should be doing this anyway to make sure you’re getting all your needed nutrients, remember?

4. Grow Your Own
window sill plant
The best way to control what’s on your vegetables is to grow your own. This may sound daunting, especially with colder temperatures on the way. But there are several vegetables that can be grown indoors, such as tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and eggplants. Got a windowsill? Cool, now you’ve got a vegetable garden.

5. Eat Organic -- It’s Easier Than You Think
produce box
People often bristle at being told to eat organic. Organic produce can be expensive, difficult to find, and who has the time to chase down which farmer’s market is open on which day. If this sounds like you, consider a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) club. CSAs ensure you know from whom exactly you are buying your produce. Often CSAs end up being more economical because they give you a limited amount each time, which prevents overbuying and letting food go to waste. Many organic CSAs exist, and many of them deliver your goods to your door. To find one in your area, try Local Harvest’s CSA finder. And remember -- even organic produce can have pesticide residue on it from nearby farms or contaminated transportation methods, so still wash everything thoroughly!

6. Be Wary When Buying These
nectarines
Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 foods found to be most contaminated with pesticide residues. The organization ranks 48 fruits and vegetables based on thousands of samples tested by the USDA and FDA. These tests are done after produce is washed and peeled, giving the consumer an idea of which produce maintain higher levels of toxicity even after proper precautions. Topping the Dirty Dozen list are apples (99% of apples test positive for some pesticide residue), celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes (a single grape tested positive for 15 pesticide residues), hot peppers, imported nectarines (every single nectarine sampled in the test came up positive for pesticide residue), peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries and sweet bell peppers.

7. And Buy More Of These
avocados
The EWG concurrently releases a “Clean Fifteen” list of the fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide residue. Their favorite low-pesticide fruits and vegetables include asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos and mushrooms. Remember -- that doesn’t mean these items had no pesticide residue, just less.

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