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produce with pitchers of waterEarlier this year, new research showed just how profoundly the switch to organic food can affect our exposure to pesticides.

It was a small study, involving 4 diverse families of 16 people total. Pesticide levels were tested in urine samples from each participant. Fourteen compounds representing as many as 40 different pesticides were detected.

Then the participants shifted to a 100% organic diet. In less than a week, their pesticide levels dropped an average of roughly 60%.

Of course, there are a couple of realities that need to be faced here, starting with the fact that eating 100% organic can be spendy (although it doesn’t have to be). This is why guides such as EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 are so helpful: They can help you prioritize which fruit and veg to buy organic.

The other reality is that, even with organic, there can still be pesticide exposure. Pesticide drift is one factor. Additionally, some synthetic pesticides are allowed – with limitations – in organic farming.

Organic farming isn’t necessarily pesticide-free farming.

And this serves as a good reminder of just how important it is to wash all fresh produce before using it. But what’s the best way of doing so?

For years, many swore by the method promoted by nutritionist Dr. Hazel Parcells to clean not just produce but eggs and meat, as well. You just dilute one teaspoon of Clorox bleach in a gallon of water, soak the food, then rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

The method is safe, and its benefits, she wrote, “are many.”

Fruits and vegetables will keep longer. The wilted ones will return to a fresh crispness. Drained, faded hues will give way to vivid, vibrant colors, tastelessness will be replaced with flavor and tang. For very little effort, you will have fresh, crunchy vegetables and juicy, sweet, zesty fruits that will keep twice as long. With the cleansing soak, the flavors of both fruits and vegetables will be enhanced greatly, tasting as fresh as if they had just been picked from the garden and the orchard. Most important, once cleansed, all the dangerous additives in the food will have been removed.

“But…bleach?!” you might be thinking. “Yuck!”

Fortunately, research now suggests a better method.

spoonful of baking sodaThe 2017 study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, compared cleaning methods for reducing pesticide residues on and in apples. Its authors treated organic Gala apples with two types of pesticide, one for the outside and one designed to penetrate the skin. Some were then cleaned with a Clorox solution. Others were cleaned with a baking soda solution. The rest were cleaned with just tap water.

Baking soda won the day.

“One thing that surprised us [though] was how long it took to wash the pesticides away,” [study author Lili] He said. Submerging apples in a baking soda solution for two minutes removed more pesticides than a two-minute soak in the bleach solution, or two minutes of rinsing in running tap water. But it took 12 to 15 minutes in the baking soda solution to completely get rid of the pesticides used in this study.

One reason may be that the baking soda solution was very weak – just an ounce of baking soda mixed into 100 ounces of water. Yet even weaker, it still proved more effective than the bleach.

How to Clean Fresh Produce

The wash is simple: Just add a teaspoon of baking soda to a large bowl of clean water and stir until it’s dissolved. Then add your produce and let it soak for a minute or two.

  • Leafy greens should be rinsed, then spun in a salad spinner or drained and then lightly pat dry.
  • Firm, tough skinned vegetables can be scrubbed with a brush before rinsing.
  • Softer skinned fruits should be rinsed with cold water in a strainer and pat dry.

Baking soda image by Aqua Mechanical

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