Shopper’s Guide To Pesticides

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The use of pesticides on plant foods has been – and most likely will always be – controversial. Whichever way you look at it, pesticides are synthetic, man-made chemicals that are formulated to kill living insects, pests, and pathogenic microorganisms. They are poisons, designed to kill things – and so the safety of the consumers will likely always be an issue. Innumerable studies highlight how pesticide exposure increases risks for different types of cancer, [1] Parkinson’s disease, [2] fertility problems [3] and more.

The questions is this – how safe can something really be if it was designed to kill something else? And how do consumers protect themselves from the potential risks of ingesting plants contaminated with pesticides?

Going Organic

The popularity of organic-grown fruits and vegetables (and even meats!) has been increasing over the past decade, with organic products available in almost 20,000 natural food stores and 3 out of 4 grocery stores in the United States. Despite its higher price, organic products remain popular because they are much safer to consume. [4] While more studies are still needed to conclude the higher nutritive values of organic products, a recent study in 2014 revealed that a diet that include organic food could possibly reduce the risk for pre-eclampsia, a condition of high blood pressure during pregnancy. [5]

Washing Before Storing, Cooking, and Consuming

Whether or not something is organically grown or produced, it very important to wash fruits and vegetables before storing and before cooking them. Produce is consistently exposed to different environmental factors, not just pesticides, and the risk of them becoming contaminated with potentially pathogenic microorganisms is very high – hence, the importance of washing them thoroughly.

Peeling Produce

Because of exactly the same reasons for washing vegetables and fruits, peeling them is also an option. However, in the case of conventionally-grown produce, the danger not only lies with the skin of vegetable or fruit but the entirety of the produce. Either way, peeling can be used to somehow reduce the risk of ingesting potential contaminants.

What To Avoid And What To Eat More Of

The US Department of Agriculture is responsible for monitoring pesticide residues on produce, which are consumed by the population. They release annual reports on pesticide residues on raw fruits and vegetables and processed products. The most recent report available was the 2013 report and revealed that (1) Broccoli, (2) Celery, (3) Green Beans, (4) Nectarines, (5) Plums, (6) Raspberries, and (7) Summer Squash were detected to have pesticide residues exceeding the established tolerance by the USDA. [6]

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The products listed below were also detected to have pesticide residues in at least 5 percent of the total number of samples:

Apple juice – 6 pesticides
• Applesauce (baby food) – 7 pesticides
Bananas – 5 pesticides
• Broccoli – 3 pesticides
• Butter – 4 pesticides
• Carrots – 8 pesticides
• Cauliflower – 1 pesticide
• Celery – 19 pesticides
• Grape juice – 6 pesticides
• Green beans – 11 pesticides
• Mushrooms – 1 pesticide
• Nectarines – 17 pesticides
• Peaches – 25 pesticides
• Plums – 6 pesticides
• Raspberries – 13 pesticides
• Summer squash – 5 pesticides
• Winter squash – 6 pesticides

Because of widespread pesticide usage to increase the life of crops, going organic may be an important life decision to make to keep yourself healthy.


[1] Parron, T., et. al. (2014). Environmental exposure to pesticides and cancer risk in multiple human organ systems.

[2] Van der Mark, M., et. al. (2014). Occupational exposure to pesticides and endotoxin and Parkinson disease in the Netherlands.

[3] Mehrpour, O., et. al. (2014). Occupation exposure to pesticides and consequences on male semen and fertility: a review.

[4] United States Department of Agriculture. Organic Market Overview.

[5] Torjusen, H., et. al. (2014). Reduced risk of pre-eclampsia with organic vegetable consumption: results from the prospective Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.

[6] United States Department of Agriculture. 2013 PDP Annual Summary.

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