Cooking Tips · Techniques

Can you wash away pesticides?

We all know we should be eating more fresh produce because of the nutrient and fiber content. We do, though, want to make sure that the produce is thoroughly cleaned. In a prior Cooking Tip, I discussed how to clean produce to ensure that dirt & pathogens are removed. If you didn’t receive it and wish to read it, email me and I will send it to you. I also wrote a separate Cooking Tip on the pros/cons of buying organic. Here is a link to that Tip. In this Cooking Tip, I wish to discuss removing pesticides from produce.

The normal cleaning of our produce when we bring it home from the store is to eliminate dirt and pathogens, not pesticides. Removing the latter requires a different approach. A recent study from researchers at University of Massachusetts recommends soaking produce in a solution of baking soda and water. That study involved apples and, after treating the apples with pesticides, they then tried three methods of cleaning them. One method was soaking the apples in a baking soda solution for two minutes. The second was a two minute soak in a bleach solution that is used in commercial operations. The third was using just plain water.

The two minute soak in a baking soda solution removed more pesticide than the other two methods. However, to completely remove the pesticides took a soak of 12-15 minutes. The researchers also cautioned that they only looked at two different pesticides and results may vary with other pesticides and methods of application.

Cooks Illustrated decided to put this method to the test. They used pesticide-detection cards and tested grapes. They again tested different methods: a 15 minute soak in a baking soda solution, a 30-second swish in the baking soda solution, rinsing under running cold water and soaking in a vinegar solution. They found that the only two methods that worked to reduce pesticides were a quick swirl and a longer soak in the baking soda solution. Their conclusion was to make a solution of 2 teaspoons baking soda per 1 quart of water and swirl your produce in that for 30 seconds followed by a rinse under cold running water. They also caution that this will only work for certain classes of pesticides. They note that spray pesticides or those applied to the roots cannot be removed with this method.

I encourage all of you to eat as much fresh produce as you can. We have a mixed green salad with chopped veggies on it almost every night. We also put fresh greens on sandwiches as well as using fresh produce in many different recipes. Just do what it takes to ensure the produce is clean and safe to eat. Between this Cooking Tip and the prior ones I wrote, you should have all the information you need to do just that!