What You Don’t See Can Hurt You

So the other day my son was eating an apple that still had the sticker on it. He’s eight, it happens.  It probably makes the most sense for me to wash everything as soon as I bring it home, but that doesn’t happen.  However, I do wash everything (including all my organic stuff) before I use it.  I even wash a cantaloupe before I cut into it because I don’t want what’s on the outside to make its way inside.   In 2011 a Listeria outbreak from cantaloupe killed four people and sickened 141 people across 20 states.  (1)  If you add in the salmonella outbreak (cantaloupe again) in 2012, we now have more than 400 people ill and at least 36 individuals who died as a result of these two outbreaks.  While it may sound like that’s a relatively small number compared to the 318 million Americans in this country, remember only 1 in 10 of us eat our fruits and veggies everyday.

Experts say, all in all, 20 people will touch a tomato before you slice it up for your salad. And that’s in addition to all the animal waste that can mingle with your produce on the long journey from farm to table. (2) At the time of these outbreaks, Michael Landa, the Director at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition revealed, in part, multiple findings of insanitary production, handling conditions, and practices in packinghouses.   That is why, if I eat the outside or have to slice it to eat the inside, I wash it.  But that’s just pathogens, dirt, and debris.  What about the 146 different pesticides that are found on 75% of our produce?

A non-profit organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) put together two lists, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean 15,” to help consumers know when they should buy organic and when it is unnecessary. These lists were compiled using data from the United States Department of Agriculture on the amount of pesticide residue found in non-organic fruits and vegetables after they had been washed. Domestic and imported versions of two items – blueberries and snap peas – showed sharply different results, so they ranked those domestic and imported items separately. (The full list can be found here, https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php)

The fruits and vegetables on the EWG’s “The Dirty Dozen” list, when conventionally grown, tested positive for at least 48 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67. For produce on the “dirty” list, always go organic. “The 2016 Dirty Dozen” list includes:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Spinach, kale and collard greens
  • Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Hot peppers

All the produce on the EWG’s “Clean 15” 2016 list had little to no traces of pesticides, and is considered safe to consume in non-organic form. This list includes:

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet corn *
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Honeydew melon
  • Mangos
  • Asparagus
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Papayas *
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
* Denotes the majority of these are Genetically Engineered.  Look for organic if you don’t want GE products.

Remember my son’s apple?  Well, we decided to perform a little science experiment.  We filled three glasses, the glass on the far left is regular tap water, the glass in the middle is my fruit and veggie wash, and the third glass is after his apple soaked in the veggie wash after one minute.   In this case, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words.

This is a link to a story NPR featured on America’s Test Kitchen and their recommendation for the best fruit and veggie wash.  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14540742

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This is a great video about the Environmental Working Group.

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