The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publish a yearly list indicating all of the produce that one should specifically buy organically, as opposed to the products that you can get away with buying normal, but still avoid pesticides. These are known as the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and the ‘Clean Fifteen.’
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ are those the EWG deem to have concerning levels of pesticides, whereas the ‘Clean Fifteen’ list is made up of fruits and vegetables containing the smallest amount of pesticide residue. It’s based on an analysis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report, which is also published annually, and it’s a way to simplify the data for laypersons like you and me. (1)
The Most Effective Way To Clean Produce, According To Studies
A University study demonstrated that baking soda beats bleach when it comes to cleaning pesticides off produce. And this isn’t just because cleaning your food in bleach is generally a bad idea! While we wouldn’t recommend washing your fruit and veg in bleach at home, it is what the farmers use, post harvest, to remove as much pesticide residue from the produce as possible, along with any bacteria and other organic matter. New research has discovered that a mixture of baking soda and water is actually more effective than the way the farmers have been using. (2)
Scientists used state of the art technology to investigate the effectiveness of three solutions to remove pesticide residue from produce – in this instance, apples.
This University of Massachusetts study allows us to see that the standard post-harvest washing method (using Clorox bleach solution for 2 minutes) is not an effective means to completely remove pesticide residues on the surface of apples and further supports the idea that we should be washing our fruits and vegetables at home. It also looked at using water by itself, and then used a solution of water and baking soda.
Researchers found that baking soda can make the pesticides degrade much faster compared to the other two solutions. The recipe requires a tablespoon of baking soda and 1.5 liters of water mixed into a bowl and applied on the produce. It’s usually easier to just let the produce soak in the bowl rather than apply it to the produce.
Rinsing the fruit in the baking soda solution for 12 minutes was most effective for removing a pesticide called thiabendazole, they found, while a 15-minute baking soda rinse was most effective for getting rid of a different pesticide, phosmet.
Unfortunately, they found that in cases where the pesticides had seeped into the apple (rather than just sitting on the surface), the baking soda solution was not as effective at removing the pesticides, and instead suggest that peeling is more effective to remove the penetrated pesticides. On the flip side of this, you lose the nutritional value of the peel when you remove it. It’s something that needs to be weighed in on a case by case basis.
Baking Soda vs Baking Powder
It’s important to make sure that you know the difference between baking soda and baking powder. One (soda) is also known as sodium bicarbonate, and this is the one that helps clean things. The other (powder) does contain sodium bicarbonate, but it also contains an acid, and this is used for baking. Don’t get these muddled up, or you’ll end up causing a chemical reaction on your produce!
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that pesticide residues pose no risk of concern, it’s still nice to be in control of what you’re putting into your and your family’s bodies. Not only is baking soda effective at removing pesticides, but it’s also cheap, and chances are you already have some in your cupboard!