Pesticides and produce: 3 ways to reduce your risk

You know you're supposed to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for a healthy diet. But what about your risk of ingesting pesticides with that produce?

Most nonorganic crops — and even some organically grown crops — come in contact with pesticides. As a result, traces of pesticide residue may be on the surface of a plant or even inside it.

Fortunately, there are safeguards in place. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for monitoring domestic and imported foods to make sure that pesticide residues are below certain levels.

You can take these steps to further reduce your pesticide exposure:

  1. Clean. Rinse all fruits and vegetables with running water for 15 to 30 seconds. Gently rotate while rinsing to remove most surface pesticide residue. Scrubbing with a brush may also help remove pesticides and other substances.

  2. Peel. For some foods, peeling is automatic, like when eating an orange or banana. It also makes sense to peel an outer layer away in foods like lettuce or onions. For other foods, like apple or potatoes, peeling is more of a choice.

    Whatever the produce, peeling can help remove pesticide residues. Just rinse before peeling so that your knife doesn't transfer residue to the peeled produce.

  3. Buy. When possible, purchase organically grown produce. Not every last piece of produce labeled "organic" is 100 percent pesticide-free. For the most part, though, eating organic produce significantly reduces your exposure to pesticide residues when compared with conventionally farmed produce.

When it's best to buy organic

Organic fruits and vegetables often come with a higher price tag. If cost is an issue, you may want to buy a mix of organically grown and conventionally farmed produce.

Consider buying organic when it comes to produce that tends to have higher levels of pesticides, like these:

  • American-grown: apples, cucumbers, green beans, peaches, peppers, strawberries and tangerines.
  • Mexican-grown: cucumbers, green beans, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes.
  1. Citizen's Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. EPA. Accessed Oct. 2015.
  2. Smith-Spangler C, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012;157:348.
  3. Krol WJ, et al. Reduction of pesticide residues on produce by rinsing. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemicals. 2000;48:4666.
  4. Pesticides and food: Healthy, sensible food practices. EPA. Accessed Oct. 2015.
  5. Forman J, et al. Organic foods: Health and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Pediatrics. 2012;130:e1406.
  6. From crop to table: Pesticide use in produce. Consumer Reports. Accessed Oct. 2015.