No, wiping an apple on your shirt or massaging it under tap water isn’t going to cut it.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, it turns out the best way to get pesticides off apples is by washing them with a baking soda mix.
In the study, researchers exposed apples to specific pesticide residues for 24 hours. The study notes some pesticides got absorbed by the apple peel, while some stayed on top of the apple’s surface.
Study author Lili He, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says researchers wanted to look at washing fruit from both the household and factory level.
Washing the apples
He’s team used three different cleaning solutions. One with just tap water, one with baking soda and water, and the last one with a Clorox bleach solution (similar to what some factories use to clean fruit).
According to the results, it took about 12 to 15 minutes to completely remove surface residue and apples washed with the baking soda and water solution had the least amount of pesticides.
“Tap water is not that effective, baking soda turns out to be very effective,” He continues. The baking soda was effective, she adds, because it has a high pH level that most pesticides are not “stable in.”
“It can wash away 80 per cent for thiabendzole and 95.6 per cent for phosmet using the solution after 12 and 15 minutes, respectively. The penetrated pesticides cannot be easily washed away,” she says. “For the apple peel, it is a two-sided story. Apple peels have lots of good nutrients, but it’s also the place that has the most pesticides.”
Now this doesn’t mean we need to be washing all of our fruit and vegetables for 15 minutes, she adds, and even with consistent washing, there are pesticides that cannot be washed away. To be extra safe, soak your fruit or veggies in the baking soda solution and let it sit for a few minutes.
“It depends on the degree of contamination and usually in [North America] the produce should be controlled and safe.”
She adds the one per cent baking soda-water mix could be used on other fruits and vegetables as well.
“It’s a general washing method, not only on apples, but grapes, spinach, tomatoes and basil leaves.”
Produce safety in Canada
Health Canada notes there have been outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to fruit and veggies like cantaloupes, tomatoes, and leafy greens. Pre-cut salads and fresh herbs have also been known to cause illnesses.
The agency adds safety should also be kept in mind while shopping. Leave buying cold and frozen food to the end of your shopping trip, and look for out for damaged and bruised fruit (although this can be easily chopped off).
Separate your meat, poultry and seafood items from fresh fruit and veggies, and always wash your reusable grocery bags.
When you’re cleaning the fruit or vegetable, wash your hands with soap and warm water. Health Canada recommends washing food in fresh, cool, running water, even when there are peels involved.
You can also use a produce cleaning brush, but you don’t have to use produce cleaners.
He says while this doesn’t mean we should avoid eating fruit and vegetables, it is always important to wash your food — whichever method you choose — to reduce the risks of getting sick.