by Anna Marie Trotman

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

During the summer months, local fruits and vegetables are readily available at farmers markets, farm stands, and in the supermarket. But how safe is it to take the produce off the shelf, give it a quick rinse and feed it to yourself and your family? The truth is it’s not safe at all; in our modern world, almost no food is 100% free of pesticides. Surprisingly, even organic produce may contain some pesticide residues. Washing produce is important to not only prevent foodborne illness but also to substantially reduce your exposure to pesticides.

Why Does Organic Produce Have Pesticides?

Many shoppers choose organic foods because they believe they are grown and produced without the use of pesticides. But nearly all farmers, even organic farmers, use pesticides. Like conventional farmers or anyone who has a backyard garden, organic farmers are faced with weeds, insects, and diseases. Conventional farmers are allowed to use 900 different synthetic pesticides. But organic farmers are allowed to use only 25 synthetic pesticides and then only in carefully regulated ways. The bottom line is organics still need to be washed.

What Organic Foods Should I Purchase?

Maybe you can’t always choose organic produce because it’s not in your budget. But you can make informed decisions about what fruits and vegetables are best to buy organic. Here’s a helpful tool: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles a list of the most and least contaminated produce and updates it every year. You can even download their app. The following is the 2018 list of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.

Dirty Dozen:

1 Strawberries

2 Spinach

3 Nectarines,

4 Apples

5 Grapes

6 Peaches

7 Cherries

8 Pears

9 Tomatoes

10 Celery

11 Sweet Bell Peppers

12 Hot Peppers

The Clean Fifteen:

1 Avocados

2 Sweet corn (Note: could be GMO)

3 Pineapples

4 Cabbage

5 Onions

6 Sweet peas, frozen

7 Papayas (Note: could be GMO)

8 Asparagus

9 Mangos

10 Eggplant

11 Honeydew Melon

12 Kiwi

13 Cantaloupe

14 Cauliflower

15 Broccoli

Wash Your Produce!

Most people, including myself at times, wash or rinse their produce under cold running water. This only removes some of the pesticide residues. Since many of the pesticides used are petroleum based, it would be like using cold water to remove oil from the surface of your counter. The other way to wash veggies is with products called “produce cleaners”? I was a big fan until I did some research and found that most commercial produce cleaners are no more effective than plain water. UGH!

The Best Way to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

In a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry researchers found that a baking soda solution is most effective at removing pesticide residues both on the surface and beneath the skin of apples. The baking soda solution used in the study was very weak – a mix of only one ounce of baking soda mixed with 100 ounces of water. It took 12 to 15 minutes of soaking to completely remove the pesticides.

A More Practical Approach

I don’t know about you, but 12 to 15 minutes of soaking my produce seems to be a bit time-consuming.  But there’s another way. The following tips have been adapted for a more practical everyday use.

Leafy Greens

  • Fill a salad spinner with greens (even the prepackaged greens), then fill the sink or a large bowl with water.
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda and mix well.
  • Soak your greens for a minute or two, swish, dump, rinse, and spin dry.
  • If you don’t have a salad spinner, add the greens, water, and baking soda to a bowl, let them soak, drain in a strainer, rinse, and pat leaves dry with a clean lint-free kitchen towel or paper towels.
  • When the greens are dry you can store them wrapped in a paper towel.


There is some debate in the culinary world about how to clean mushrooms.

Some chefs prefer to gently wipe mushrooms with a damp towel. However, to clean mushrooms thoroughly, you can gently scrub mushrooms using a mushroom brush and then rinse them quickly under running water. After that, blot the mushrooms dry with a clean kitchen or paper towel.

Other Veggies

  • Fill a large bowl with water.
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Add the veggies.
  • Soak for a minute or two.
  • Scrub with a brush.
  • Rinse thoroughly.


Smooth skinned fruits, such as apples, nectarines, and cherries, can be washed in a baking soda bath the same way as veggies.  

Berries can be rinsed under cold water in a mesh strainer, gently pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels just before you intend to eat them. Although your instinct may be to rinse off berries when you bring them home, doing so actually increases moisture and accelerates spoilage, microflora, and mold. It’s better to rinse them right before eating.

The Takeaway?

Try to choose organic produce as much possible, especially if you are pregnant or when shopping for food for children. This is especially important for the “Dirty Dozen” listed above.

Practicing good food hygiene means washing your produce whether it’s organic or conventional.  Making your own baking soda solution ahead may be the best option and will save you time and keep you on track.

Try not to stress out! Take the next step and do the best you can to clean your produce, knowing you’re doing something good for yourself and your family.  

Happy Veggie Washing!

Information from the Food Revolution Network.