Have you ever heard of thiabendazole? (“Oh, of course,” said no one.)
Anyways, this thiabendazole is a fungicide, pesticide, and parasiticide; that is, it kills fungus, pesticides, and parasites. Oh, and it’s on your fruit and veggies. Isn’t that delightful?
It’s also one of the chemicals tested in the study we will talk about. Now, pesticides have an important role in preserving food; without it, all of the fruits and veg at your local grocer (besides organic products) would be less than safe to eat. Wouldn’t want that now, would we?
Of course not. But we sure as heck don’t want this crap on our food when we eat it, right? So what do we do? Let’s get into that a little bit.
If you’re like most, you splash a bit of water on your apple, pear, peach, whatever, before digging in. To your (and mine’s) credit, a quick rinse is better than doing nothing – but not by much.
That’s because pesticides are a pain in the butt to clean off, as you will discover shortly.
Here’s how to get pesticides off your fruit:
“While various baking powders were sold in the first half of the 19th century, the modern variants in use today were discovered by Alfred Bird in 1843. August Oetker, a German pharmacist, made baking powder very popular when he began selling his mixture to housewives.” ~ Wikipedia
A group of scientists from the Department of Food Science and the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst wanted to see how useful various washing agents were in removing pesticides. To find this out, the research team chose perhaps the most commonly-eaten fruit – an apple.
To test the washing agents efficiency, scientists used state-of-the-art mapping and spectrometry imaging to measure pesticide levels before and after cleaning. The three cleaning methods used were Clorox bleach, plain tap water, and baking soda.
The research team tested the Clorox first. It is worth bearing in mind that Clorox bleach “is approved in the US to treat newly picked fruits and vegetables before they are sold to consumers” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
We would like to think that if the EPA approved the use of Clorox bleach to eradicate pesticides, it must be effective! We would be wrong, sadly.
Here’s what the research team said: “…the standard postharvest washing method using Clorox bleach solution for 2 (minutes) is not an effective means to completely remove pesticide resides on the surface of apples.”
(Anybody else troubled by the EPA’s decision to greenlight a product that doesn’t work to clean our food?)
Tap water, of course, didn’t work. In fact, tap water removed next to nothing.
That leaves sodium bicarbonate (‘baking soda’ or NaHCO3): “Surface pesticide residues were most effectively removed by sodium bicarbonate solution when compared to either tap water or Clorox bleach,” the team notes.
Scientists found that soaking apples in a solution of one percent baking soda and water for eight minutes had significantly reduced pesticide levels. After 12 to 15 minutes, pesticides were almost entirely gone from the fruit’s surface.
For comprehensive results, the research team tested the three agents against two types of pesticides: systemic and non-systemic. Systemic pesticides penetrate the food’s outer layer; sometimes circulating throughout the crop or plant. Non-systemic pesticides do not penetrate the food’s surface – in this case, the apple peel.
In both cases, baking soda proved capable. Mapping and spectrometry readouts show that the water and sodium bicarbonate mixture eliminated over 96 percent of the non-systemic pesticide and 80 percent of the systemic pesticide. Further, all of the remaining chemical residues were below the peel; something that no surface-level washing agent can clean.
The team notes “Peeling is more effective to remove the penetrated pesticides.” This method comes at a slight cost, however, as the healthy bioactive compounds (e.g., polyphenolic compounds, fibers, pigments, vitamins, and minerals) of the fruit are also peeled away.
The bottom line: cleaning your fruits and veggies correctly, even it’s just a sprinkle of baking soda and a two-minute rinse, can eradicate most of the nasty surface-level pesticides. If you want to go pesticide-free, peeling the apple will do the trick. Better yet, choose organic fruits to eliminate the need for all this extra effort!