The abundance of food available for purchase today is a double-edged sword. Modern agricultural practices produce never-before-imagined quantities of food to stock grocery store shelves. Unfortunately, these practices also require the use of pesticides, which exposes consumers to contaminated food.
Use of pesticides is largely responsible for the sheer volume of produce available for purchase, but at what cost? Pesticide residue leaches into the food, which is not only unappetizing, but also can have long-term impacts on consumer health. These impacts are not yet fully understood by scientists.
Contaminated Food: The Dirty Dozen
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a clean food advocacy organization, publishes an annual list of the foods most likely to contain pesticide residue. Some foods consistently make the list, while others are more surprising. New to the list this year is the popular health food, kale.
The USDA has not tested kale for pesticide contamination for almost 10 years, but its rising popularity as a vitamin-rich food prompted examination this year. The sheer amount of kale contaminated with pesticides secured the leafy green an ignoble 2nd place on the “Dirty Dozen” list.
According to the EWG, more than 70 percent of the produce purchased by American consumers could be considered contaminated food. Their annual study of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed 225 separate types of pesticide and pesticide breakdowns on fruits and vegetables this year.
Prior to testing, the USDA washes and peels fruits and vegetables just as consumers would in their homes. That means the level of pesticides detected is an accurate representation of the pesticide contaminated food that Americans actually consume. The results are disturbing.
2019’s Dirty Dozen
- Strawberries – At the top of the list for many years, 90% of strawberries samples tested positive for pesticides.
- Spinach – 90% of samples tested positive for pesticide residues.
- Kale – 90% of kale samples tested positive for pesticides. Around 60% of those samples included Dacthal (DCPA), which is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Nectarines – 90% of samples tested positive for pesticides.
- Apples – 90% of samples tested positive for pesticides.
- Grapes – Up to 60% of samples tested positive for at least one pesticide, and many other samples tested positive for dozens of other varieties of pesticides.
- Peaches – Up to 62% of samples tested positive for at least one pesticide, and many other samples tested positive for dozens of other varieties of pesticides.
- Cherries – 90% of samples tested positive for pesticide residues.
- Pears – Up to 52% of samples tested positive for at least one pesticide, and many other samples tested positive for dozens of other varieties of pesticides.
- Tomatoes – Up to 24% of samples tested positive for at least one pesticide, and many other samples tested positive for dozens of other varieties of pesticides.
- Celery – Up to 41% of samples tested positive for at least one pesticide, and many other samples tested positive for dozens of other varieties of pesticides.
- Potatoes – Up to 42% of samples tested positive for at least one pesticide, and 99% of samples tested positive for a certain pesticide, Chlorpropham.
You may notice that some higher-percentage produce ranks lower on the list. This is because some foods are measured based on the amount of pesticide residue by weight.
The Clean 15 and Other Ways to Avoid Consuming Pesticides
The EWG encourages consumers to buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. However, for many Americans, organic produce is out of reach either because of price or availability. Only 7 percent of fruit and 11 percent of vegetables purchased in the U.S. last year were organic. There is clearly some reason why consumers largely continue to purchase non-organic.
Luckily, the EWG publishes a list called “The Clean 15” alongside the Dirty Dozen list every year to point consumers in the direction of conventionally grown food that is less likely to be contaminated by pesticides. Some of the foods on the Clean 15 had less than one percent detectable pesticides. More than 70 percent of the foods from the EWG’s clean list had no signs of pesticides at all. The Clean 15 includes:
Other than cabbage, all of these foods tested positive for four or less pesticides. That is a stark contrast to the Dirty Dozen, where some foods tested positive for 18 or more.
Of course, the best way to avoid exposure to pesticides is to grow an organic, pesticide-free garden at home. There are many options for pesticide-free home gardening. For consumers who cannot manage a home garden, buying organic produce when possible could reduce the risk of exposure to pesticides.
Cleaning and Storing Produce to Minimize Pesticide Consumption
The USDA cleans and peels samples for pesticide testing, which means pesticide rates would likely be much higher in unwashed contaminated food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a 7 point approach for washing fruits and vegetables to minimize pesticide exposure, and also to reduce the risk of bacterial contaminants like Listeria or Salmonella.
The FDA’s 7 tips include:
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce.
- Cut away damaged or bruised areas prior to eating.
- Rinse produce before peeling to avoid residues transferring from the knife to the food.
- Gently rub produce while holding it under cool running water.
- Invest in a vegetable brush for scrubbing firm produce like carrots or cucumbers.
- Pat produce dry with a paper towel.
- Remove the outer leaves of lettuce or cabbage before eating.
It is also recommended that consumers do not take “ready-to-eat” or “pre-washed” labels too seriously. Packaged food that is labeled as such should still be washed and handled properly before consuming.
Health Risks of Exposure to Pesticides in Contaminated Food
Consuming pesticides can negatively impact your health over time. The EWG suggests an organic or otherwise pesticide-free diet can start lowering levels of pesticides detectable in the human body within one week. Research also suggests the following:
- One French study found 25% fewer cancer diagnoses in consumers who ate organic food versus those who ate pesticide contaminated food.
- A 2018 Harvard study showed a high rate of association among people who eat foods high in pesticide residues and fertility problems.
- Certain pesticides, like chlorpyrifos, are known to be neurotoxins that can harm developing brains.
- Some pesticides, such as malathion, are known human carcinogens.
Consumers Harmed by Contaminated Food Have Rights
The FDA closely monitors the levels of pesticide contaminants in the American food supply because these substances are dangerous for people to consume. Those suffering fertility problems, neurological deficits, or cancer are not statistics. They are someone’s best friend, sister, or father whose health has been compromised by irresponsible food production practices.
Access to low-cost fruits and vegetables is not worth human lives. If you or someone you love has been harmed by consuming pesticide contaminated food, contact Bad Food Recall now to learn more about your legal rights and options. You may be entitled to compensation for your suffering. Click here to connect with one of our attorneys now.