How to actually remove pesticides from your fruit

Assuming that you should be worried about them in the first place.

There’s a lot to worry about when it comes to food—or rather, there’s a lot that people want you to worry about. Every mommy blogger and natural living life coach with a URL to their name is bursting with helpful tips on how to rid yourself of toxins and chemicals. If you google “how to get pesticides off fruit” you’re greeted by a flurry of blogs all promising the solution.

It’s not unreasonable to want to consume fewer of the chemicals we use to kill off bugs and weeds. You should just make sure that what you’re doing is actually effective. Plenty of people wash their chicken before cooking it, even though that method does nothing to kill bacteria, and in fact spreads potentially dangerous pathogens all over your kitchen sink and such. So let’s look at the evidence:

Store-bought veggie washes don’t work, but baking soda does

Water can remove some of the pesticides from a piece of fruit, so a basic scrub under the tap will help at least a little. The extent to which this rather lackadaisical method works will depends on the fruit itself; some skins will more readily release the pesticides contained therein.

RELATED: How to store every single type of fruit

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How to store every single type of fruit

Apples

How to Store: As soon as you bring them home, stash ‘em in the fridge. They should be good for up to three weeks.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Cover the remaining half (or slices) in tightly pressed plastic wrap and stick the apple back in the fridge. This will help prevent browning, which is caused by oxidation.

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Pears

How to Store: You should refrigerate them for a shelf life of about five days.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Same deal as apples, cover the slices with plastic wrap.

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Avocados

How to Store: Pop them in the fridge as soon as they’re ripe. That way, they’ll keep for about three days. (If they’re not ripe, store them on the counter.)

If You’ve Eaten Some: Brush lemon juice on the uneaten half to prevent it from browning, the press plastic wrap against the surface before putting it in the fridge.

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Bananas

How to Store: These can sit on your countertop and should stay fresh for about five days.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Ideally, the uneaten half is still in the peel. If it is, just wrap the exposed end with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge.

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Grapes

How to Store: Stick them in a bowl (or ventilated bag, like the one they come in) in the fridge and they should stay fresh for up to a week.

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Raspberries

How to Store: To maximize their shelf life, you should remove the bad ones from the carton first, then lay them out on a paper towel-lined plate in your fridge. This way, they should keep for three to four days.

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Blackberries

How to Store: Ditto the raspberries.

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Tomatoes

How to Store: You can store these guys in the fridge, just let them come up to room temperature before you eat them. (They should stay fresh for about a week.)

If You’ve Eaten Some: It’s best to store them in the fridge with the cut side down on a paper towel inside Tupperware.

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Melons

How to Store: Keep it in the fridge and it should last for a week or more.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Keep any sliced up leftovers in a plastic dish covered with plastic wrap.

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Mangoes

How to Store: Fridge storage is best to keep them fresh for about four days.

If You’ve Eaten Some: It’s fine to keep chopped up mangoes in a plastic bag in the fridge.

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Blueberries

How to Store: Get rid of any overripe berries, then keep them in their original plastic container inside the fridge. (They should last a full week.)

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Cherries

How to Store: Stick them in a bowl and keep them inside the fridge for a three-day shelf life.

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Oranges

How to Store: Just set them in a bowl on your countertop and they should stay fresh for a week or more.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Keep any uneaten slices in a plastic baggie.

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Grapefruit

How to Store: Just like oranges, this can also rest on your countertop for about a week for maximum freshness.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Store leftovers (plus, whatever juice you can save) in a plastic container.

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Kiwi

How to Store: Tuck them in the fridge and they should last three to four days.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

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Peaches

How to Store: If they’re ripe, pop them in the fridge and they should keep for five days.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Ideally, you can slice it up and keep any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.

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Pineapple

How to Store: If it’s whole, keep it on the countertop and it will keep for five days. But if it’s sliced, you should keep it in the fridge.

If You’ve Eaten Some: Cover it in plastic wrap.

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Strawberries

How to Store: Just like blueberries, you should get rid of any gross-looking berries first, then store them in perforated container (like the one they came in). 

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Others, like apples treated with wax for extra shine, will retain them despite your scrubbing. But water’s occasional ineffectiveness doesn’t mean you should waste money on store-bought veggie washes—they don’t seem to work, either. And even if it worked (which it’s not clear that it does), regular soap is liable to seep into the surface.

A recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found one better alternative: baking soda. A solution of sodium bicarbonate and water can remove even more pesticides than water alone, provided you have more than a minute to spare. In the experiments, Gala apples that were allowed to soak in baking soda for eight minutes had significantly reduced pesticide residue on the surface, and at 12-15 minutes there were virtually no pesticides left.

This is because sodium bicarbonate can help degrade the two types of pesticides used in this study, thiabendazole and phosmet. Other chemicals might not react the same way, so this solution isn’t a guarantee of a pesticide-free snack. It’s just a lot better than the alternatives.

Even after the long soak time, though, there were some pesticides that the baking soda couldn’t get to. Thiabendazole and phosmet, like many other substances, seep into the skin and flesh of the produce they’re applied to. There’s an upper limit to the amount that the fruit can absorb since the added chemicals will come to an equilibrium inside the cells, but none of it will come out in the wash.

Buying organic can help, though not much

If you’re hoping to avoid pesticides altogether, you’ll have to look beyond the organic aisle. Produce grown under organic conditions can still have pesticides, it’s just a different—and supposedly less toxic—set of them. But they’re still chemicals that can seep into your fruit through the skin or even leech into the flesh itself via the plant’s water supply, both of which prevent you from washing them away.

RELATED:The 10 Best and 10 Worst Fruits for You

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The 10 Best and 10 Worst Fruits for You

Read on to find out which fruits are best, and which ones you may want to eat less frequently.

The Best

Enjoy these fruits as much as you want. They're lower in sugar content and they're filled with antioxidants, cancer-fighting properties and loads of benefits to keep you healthy.

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Blueberries

Blueberries are one of the most antioxidant-filled fruits you can eat! Blueberries have a pretty low glycemic index, and they have been found to benefit people with diabetes.

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Watermelon

Made up of nearly 82 percent water, watermelon is a delicious summer staple. While watermelon does contain sugar, it's more probable that you'll enjoy a few slices of the fruit rather than an entire watermelon. Even with the sugar, watermelon has been shown to lower levels of blood sugar and blood pressure.

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Raspberries

Half a cup of raspberries contains only 2.7 grams of sugar. Most of the carbohydrates found in raspberries come from their fiber content, which helps keep you feeling full.

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Lemons

Lemons are very low in sugar, high in vitamin C and have been found to protect against rheumatoid arthritis. The flavor of lemons can be enjoyed with just a zest or a squeeze. Add lemons to your tea, roast chicken or even pasta.

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Guavas

Three ounces of a guava fruit contains only 4.7 grams of sugar. That's great news because guavas have been found to help eyesight, prevent cancer and even promote weight loss.

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Grapefruits

According to the USDA, half of a grapefruit has only 8 grams of sugar. Grapefruits are also filled with vitamin C.

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Strawberries

The beautiful red color in strawberries makes them a powerhouse of nutritional value. The phenolic acid that gives strawberries their signature color helps to regulate blood sugar. With only 7 grams of sugar per cup, strawberries are a great option for a healthy dessert.

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Boysenberries

According to the USDA, boysenberries contain an impressive 9 grams of sugar for an entire cup. The tart berry is filled with fiber, folate, vitamin C and potassium.

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Blackberries

Blackberries contain 4.8 grams of sugar per cup, which makes them a great treat. (Not mention they're great for your heart.)

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Cranberries

Cranberries have an impressive array of phytonutrients in addition to vitamin C. They can taste pretty bitter to some, but that's just due to their limited sugar content.

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The Worst

Don't worry, these fruits aren't so bad for you that you should never have them, but they do contain significantly more sugar and calories than the aforementioned fruits. Just don't overdo it with these.

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Figs

Fresh figs are filled with fiber and can help to lower blood pressure, but the fruit does contain a good amount of sugar too—100 grams of raw figs (or roughly one cup) contains around 16 grams of sugar.

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Bananas

Bananas are a great substitute for an energy bar before the gym. Filled with potassium and easily digested, they're the perfect pre-workout snack. Still, with 14 grams of sugar in a medium banana, it's important to eat them mindfully.

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Mangos

Mangos are filled with soluble fiber in addition vitamins C, A and B6, however, the tasty fruit is pretty high in sugar, even by fruit standards. One mango contains 31 grams of sugar, so be sure to slice and share the sweet fruit.

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Grapes

According to the USDA, one cup of grapes contains 15 grams of sugar. Still, grapes can help to lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

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Pomegranates

Pomegranate seeds are delicious and beautiful winter fruit, but one entire pomegranate contains about 39 grams of sugar, which is why you should try sprinkling the seeds on yogurt instead of eating an entire bowl. Despite its sugar content though, the pomegranate has been shown to benefit the heart and even slow the process of aging.

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Cherries

Cherries are filled with vitamin C, which helps fight off disease, but eating a 100-gram serving of the sweet fruit contains 13 grams of sugar.

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Apples

The saying, "An apple a day, keeps the doctor away," holds up because apples have been found to help regulate blood sugar and are a great source of dietary fiber. However, according to the USDA, one medium apple has a surprising 19 grams of sugar.

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Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is super tasty because it generally contains more sugar than raw fruit. One cup of raisins contains over 434 calories. Enjoy dried fruit as a treat or sprinkle sparingly it on dishes for an extra burst of sweetness.

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Pineapple

Pineapples are a great way to get a delicious load of vitamin C, and eating them can have a positive effect on digestion. But remember that one cup of pineapple chunks contains 16 grams of sugar, so enjoy the tangy fruit in moderation.

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The most common piece of advice here is to avoid those fruits that pose more of a pesticide risk, often known as the “Dirty Dozen.” An environmental group called the Environmental Working Group has claimed that switching to the organic versions of those 12 fruits and veggies could substantially improve your health.

It’s true that organic versions will generally contain fewer and less harmful chemicals, and there’s certainly no harm in eating organic, but it’s worth noting that EWG’s methodology is far from scientific. Their analysis relied on unproven theories about how pesticides might interact with one another and thus has skewed results.

A rebuttal in the Journal of Toxicology found that EWG didn’t even attempt to estimate pesticide exposure in the first place, and that “substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks.”

In other words: science does not back up the Dirty Dozen advice. But it’s your money; you can eat organic if you want to.

It’s not clear how worried you should be about those pesticides in the first place

That same Journal of Toxicology analysis also found that the levels of pesticides detected in the so-called Dirty Dozen all fell below the acceptable limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. And we’re not talking just slightly below the limit. The allowable dose for methamidophos on bell peppers was 49.5 times higher than the actual amount of pesticide, and that was the fruit with the highest exposure.

RELATED:The Best Ways to Wash Fruits and Vegetables   

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The Best Ways to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Have fruit and vegetable recalls got you worried? Use these tips to help prevent the spread of bacteria.

Is regular old water really enough? According to the Food and Drug Administration, it is. The FDA does not recommend using soap, liquid detergent or any of the commercial fruit and vegetable washes out there. All produce should be thoroughly washed under running water, whether it’s grown conventionally or organically.


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The University of Maine’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Cooperative Extension backed up this claim by testing three store-bought produce rinses and washes against regular tap water and distilled water. The study found that distilled water was the most effective way to remove pesticides and microbes.

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Why distilled? The water is filtered and purified to remove any contaminants, so you’re washing your produce with the purest possible liquid.


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The researchers also said that “very clean cold tap water” can be used instead.


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The key is to wash your fruits and vegetables even if you are peeling or cutting them. Slicing an unwashed cantaloupe, for example, can transfer bacteria from the outside of the melon onto the cut fruit.


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Thick-skinned produce such as melons or cucumbers (or vegetables that grow underground, like beets and carrots) might need an extra scrub to remove excess dirt or hard-to-remove microbes. A vegetable scrubber is the best tool for this job.


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The University of Maine recommends soaking produce with a lot of nooks and crannies (like cauliflower, broccoli or lettuce) for one to two minutes in clean, cold water before eating.


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Once your fruits and vegetables are nice and clean, experts recommend drying them with a dishtowel or paper towel – another step I usually skip. But drying produce may help reduce any residual bacteria that might be present.


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Another small but important step: be sure to wash your countertops, cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water after cutting and peeling produce. The FDA also recommends a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water. Sure, this might seem a little excessive — especially if you’re a quick-rinse-under-the-tap kind of person like me.


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But given the recent surge of food recalls, maybe it’s time we start handling produce differently – more like raw meat. With a few extra steps, you could prevent a serious illness or worse.


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Many of them came 1,000-or 30,000-fold under the legal limit. It is worth noting that legal limits aren’t infallible. Human exposures and their bodily impacts are difficult to study (and oft under-studied), and too often we don’t know exactly how a particular pesticide might affect us. If the EPA bases their acceptable limit on faulty science, it may overestimate how much exposure we can tolerate. And that’s assuming that the EPA is even doing their job properly in the first place.

If you’re still not sure—maybe you don’t trust the EPA, or you think pesticides haven’t been studied well enough (both perfectly fair points)—try going to your local farmer’s market. There, you can talk to the growers and discuss which pesticides they use. Of course, there seems to be an ever-growing trend of farmer’s markets filling up with folks simply reselling wholesale produce. So you might want to do an extra baking soda wash just to be sure.

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