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Five Easy Ways to Reduce Your Family’s Pesticide Consumption

Updated on May 30, 2009

If you have been eating a typical North American diet and depend on certain convenience or packaged foods, you are eating pesticide residue.

But what's the alternative? After all, organic produce is very expensive and family budgets can only stretch so far.

Here’s the good news: small changes in your weekly grocery purchases can add up to a significant reduction in your family’s consumption of harmful chemicals. And it's easy.

Your first resource in helping to get pesticides out of your food is the 2009 Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) list of the worst conventionally grown food items. EWG provides some straightforward advice on foods to avoid – as well as foods that are relatively safe even when not organic. It’s called the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides and it's small enough that you can take with you to the supermarket to help you in your produce selection.

The Shoppers Guide to Pesticides forms the basis for five easy tips that will help you and your family eat better without turning your life upside-down or breaking the bank:

1. Buy the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” only if you can get organic.

The worst produce items to buy conventionally grown are:

  1. peaches
  2. apples
  3. bell peppers
  4. celery
  5. nectarines
  6. strawberries
  7. cherries
  8. kale
  9. lettuce
  10. imported grapes
  11. carrots
  12. pears

Of all the common produce independently tested by EWG, these were the worst - even after washing and peeling the produce! If you completely replace these items with their organic counterparts, you will substantially reduce your family’s pesticide intake.

2. Can’t afford organic? Replace the “Dirty Dozen” with low pesticide alternatives instead.

Not every budget can afford the cost of replacing 12 staple foods with their organic version. However, another way to reduce your chemical consumption is to pick and choose what you replace.

For instance, replace a staple fruit like apples with organic; organic apples tend to be less expensive than other organic fruit. Then, to provide your family with some variety, try a substitution. For instance, substitute conventionally grown watermelon for your regular strawberry purchase. Your family still gets a sweet fruit, but one that exposes them to much less chemicals.

3. Love salads? Buy organic lettuce and bell peppers.

Unfortunately, the traditional salad vegetables are all on the list of biggest pesticide offenders, including lettuce, bell peppers, celery and carrots. Rather than buy all of these items in organic, focus on one or two favorites – like organic lettuce and organic bell peppers – and substitute carrots with tomatoes, and celery with avocado. Avocado provides a great source of healthy fats, which are essential for a child’s brain development. Tomatoes get you a number of bioflavonoids on your plate.

Is organic lettuce getting too expensive? Try a raw cabbage salad. Using cabbage in place of lettuce will also get you a reduction in toxins.

4. Are you buying juice boxes for lunches? Switch from apple to pure orange juice.

Many parents depend on apple juice as a staple in their children’s meals and snacks away from home. However, apples are one of the Dirty Dozen. Washing and peeling do not remove pesticide residue. As a result, you can expect that any apple juice made from conventionally grown apples will also contain higher pesticide residues.

A simple switch to orange juice will reduce the amount of pesticides going into growing bodies, with a healthy dose of vitamin C included.

5. Love kale but can’t find it in organic? Try a related vegetable.

Many times we’d like to eat something – but can’t find it in the organic section. Organic foods tend to be much more seasonal than other produce. As a result, many of our favorite leafy veggies will be conspicuously absent during fall and winter months. If you are dying for kale, try another healthy green veggie from the cabbage family - broccoli. Broccoli is much cheaper and significantly less pesticide is used on it in the growing process.


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    • profile image

      Abdoel 2 years ago

      These days, many of us are concerned about pectiside residue on fresh fruits and vegetables, especially the fresh produce that's imported from other countries. We are also wondering if there isn't something we can do to take responsibility for our own food supply in a time when food security may be in question. In Container Gardening for Health, Master Gardener Barbara Barker gives us guidelines for growing the dirty dozen : those plants that are most contaminated with chemical pectiside residue, according to data compiled by the USDA. Unfortunately, the dirty dozen includes peaches, apples bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes tasty, nutritious foods that appear several times a week on the plates of almost every American.What can you do to ensure your family's food safety? You can start, as Barker suggests, by studying the list and choosing the three items that you consume most often. Learn how to grow these plants in whatever space you have, following the helpful guidelines in this book. It could even be a family project involving kids and seniors container gardening is an enjoyable activity that can fit the abilities of almost everyone.I've been a gardener for many years, but I found plenty to learn from Barker's book. Plant by plant, she reviews each of the dirty dozen, offering general information, reviewing the chemical residue issues, describing varieties (often dwarf) suitable for container gardening, picturing appropriate containers, and giving tips for soil, fertilization, pest management, harvesting, and storage. She has included a comprehensive table of pectiside data (it may just curl your hair to see the kind of chemicals that are turning up in your food), and a helpful chapter on pest identification, prevention, and treatment. This latter is an excellent resource for every gardener. She also offers suggestions for raised-bed construction a good technique that can turn even the tiniest yard into a productive garden. And there's a first-class resource list, a glossary, and an index: must-haves for gardeners who want to do more research on their own.There are a number of books on bookstore shelves these days that offer to help us become container gardeners. Barker's book, however, is unique, for she combines the information you need to know about gardening in containers with what you need to know to protect your food supply. Most of us don't have a great deal of extra time on our hands these days, so concentrating our efforts on replacing at least some of the dirty dozen with our own pectiside-free fruits and vegetables makes very good sense.In fact, this whole book makes very good sense. You'll find yourself going back to it over and over Susan Wittig Albertfor Story Circle Book Reviewsreviewing books by, for, and about women

    • profile image

      Ranjima 3 years ago

      Informative and I will follow these rules

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 5 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      You want a soap that doesn't have a lot of additives / chemical fragrances, and that biodegrades quickly. You can actually buy "produce wash", that is designed specifically for that purpose, but it tends to be expensive, and so I don't bother with that! Further, getting pesticides off food will only remove the small amount which is on the outside - any which has been "soaked up" by the plant is in the food and can't be washed off. So, washing is only a small help: the main use of washing is to remove harmful bacteria.

      When I buy any soap for the purposes of washing produce, I usually check the health food store or "natural" foods section and then purchase soap there which is free of any kind of scent - that's what I use for cleaning produce.

      When it comes to getting rid of bacteria though, I recently came across an straight-forward way to do that - and is easy and inexpensive. Here's the link:

    • profile image

      Ly Le 5 years ago

      What is safe soap?

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 6 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Sorry it's taken awhile to get back to you about your comment on soaking veggies... Any kind of soaking will help to remove some pesticides just by virtue of diluting them. However, I think the recommendation is to use a small amount of safe soap if you want to get as much pesticides as possible off your produce.

    • profile image

      Debbie 6 years ago

      I heard that by soaking some vegetables (broccoli & cauliflower) in cold salt water for about 1/2 hour this should help to remove dirt and pesticides. Does this make sense to you?

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 6 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Aman - it's possible that this will help to remove some (since it helps to make the water more effective), but I haven't seen any research that shows how much percentage, etc.

      Here's a link that also talks about this topic:

    • profile image

      aman 6 years ago

      hi monique. thanks for info.i want to know that if i wash an apple with baking soda solution ,will it reduce pesticide residue

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 6 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Thanks for dropping by, Richard! ;-)

    • RichardCMckeown profile image

      RichardCMckeown 6 years ago

      Very useful hub. Never thought of having pesticide consumption. Great to know about this information,Monique. Keep writing.:)

    • KS20647 profile image

      KS20647 7 years ago

      I Like the hub I myself if it doesn't come from the land I do not eat it. I wash what I buy in the stores and I rarely buy things there I go to a produce stand or a farm. I was raised on one. My family has a long life span and we raise our own food and the reason being is the pesticides, we try to get as little as we can but it is so hard to do that now.

      Thanks for the Hub

    • profile image

      Tess Rousseau 8 years ago

      I just copied the EWG's Dirty Dozen list which I will carry in my purse, so that when I go shopping it'll be easy to check what I should buy in the organic section only. Thanks for the great information.

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 8 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      An interesting tip - I wonder where they get their data from. I would find myself much more comfortable with a juice that is made from a fruit that has lower pesticide residues in the first place.

    • profile image

      Joe Hutchins 8 years ago

      It seems that apples are bad for pesticides, but apple juice not as much

      here is one source:

      look under "tips"

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 8 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      It really depends on when the pesticides are applied in the growing process and how frequently. Some plants are sprayed multiple times before fruits or veggies are harvested! The problem is that most pesticides and chemicals have the capability of penetrating the skin of the produce. Washing may remove any pesticides that are remaining on the surface - but it won't get what has gone into the item.

      That's why I used the information from the Environmental Working Group as the basis for my five tips. The fruits and veggies that were tested were all washed and prepared as a "regular" person would do it.

      Unfortunately, that still leaves such family staples as apples in the Dirty Dozen. That's why switching to orange juice works to reduce the pesticides you take in; oranges are grown with much less pesticide than apples and the tough outer rind is excluded from the juice - which means pesticide in the rind is not in your juice box.

    • profile image 8 years ago from San Francisco, CA USA

      Good, informative, hub! You said washing doesn't remove the pesticides. But, does it help? Are there certain ways of washing that help more than others?