By Larraine Roulston:
Everyone should give fresh fruits and veggies a thorough rinse before eating them. In this world of pesticide use, it is most important to be extra vigilant. Even organic produce is susceptible to being contaminated, as it can host airborne toxins from neighboring fields. Note that food placed directly on checkout counters may pick up chemical residues that have been sprayed to keep those surfaces clean.
Simply rinsing pesticides from foods under running tap water for less than a minute is the most common practice; however, we need to do better. Scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station tested many pesticides and revealed that rinsing food reduced the amount of toxins for 9 of the 12 that were tested. Those that were not reduced included vinclozolin, bifenthrin and chlorphyrifos.
To protect your family further, wash vegetables and fruits with water after adding salt, vinegar or baking soda.
When cleaning produce, it is more effective to use a bowl of water and include any one of the ingredients listed above. To test for the successful elimination of the residue from four common pesticides — chlorphyrifos, DDT, cypermethrin and chlorothalonil — a study published in Food Control reported that researchers washed vegetables for 20 minutes in vinegar, salt water, and plain water. As salt is more economical than vinegar, they discovered that a 10% salt water solution proved to be the most effective. Full-strength vinegar was equally good but left a vinegary flavor.
Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared the effectiveness of using plain tap water, a Clorox bleach solution and baking soda mixed in water. Baking soda proved the best at removing pesticide residues from the surface and beneath the skin of apples. The ratio used was one ounce of baking soda to 100 ounces of water, and completely eliminating any pesticides took 12 to 15 minutes of soaking.
Although most of us do not think to thoroughly wash our produce 15 minutes ahead of meal preparation, researchers adapted the results for practical use. At best, we are aware and should put their methods to the test. A quick and easy solution for veggies is to fill a large bowl with water. Add a little baking soda, salt or vinegar. Place vegetables in the bowl for a couple of minutes, then scrub with a brush. Lastly, rinse them off. For salad greens, finalize by putting them into a spinner or remove the water by dabbing with a towel. For mushrooms, scrubbing them gently with a brush is recommended.
The best time to subject fruits to the baking soda or salt bath is just before eating or preparing them. If you soak fruit as soon as you unpack your groceries, it will increase moisture and accelerate spoilage.
Purchasing organic foods is preferable, especially if you are pregnant and/or have children. The following, known as the dirty dozen, are the most contaminated foods: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.
Once in the habit of allowing the extra time to wash your food thoroughly, it becomes an easy routine.
Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure stories on composting and pollinating. To order, visit www.castlecompost.com