Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?” — Dr. Jane Goodall
I buy organic produce at the farmers’ market from small local producers who: grow a variety of crops which they rotate, use beneficial plants and insects to keep pests at bay, build good soil and so on. My daughter MK, a poor student, cannot afford to eat food grown this way. She usually opts for less expensive, factory farmed fruit and vegetables she buys at the discount grocery store—the non-organic produce grown in monocultures and sprayed with synthetic pesticides.
But she told me about a simple trick that removes some of the pesticides from the surface of her produce:
In a bowl, mix together about one tablespoon of baking soda with six cups of water. Add the produce. Wait about 15 minutes. Drain. Rinse.
Not a woowoo trick
A 2017 study out of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, showed that a solution of baking soda and water removed two types of pesticides from the surface of apples more effectively than did plain water or a solution of bleach and water. You can read the study here.
The researchers treated organic Gala apples with two common pesticides, the fungicide thiabendazole, and phosmet, which kills various pests, after which they soaked the apples in the three different solutions and finally, tested the apples for residues. They found that the baking soda solution “took 12 and 15 min to completely remove thiabendazole or phosmet surface residues, respectively, following a 24 [hour] exposure to these pesticides.”
Although the study looked at apples only, one of the researchers, Dr. He, said the baking soda solution is a “general method” that can be used on other kinds of fruit and vegetables because it helps to break up pesticide molecules, which can then be washed away.
The Dirty Dozen
So which fruits and vegetables might you want to wash in baking soda and water? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit that advocates for policies that protect human health, maintains a list of the types of conventional produce that contain the most pesticide residues—The Dirty Dozen. These 12 are:
- Sweet bell peppers
With strawberries ranking first on the list, you may want to buy organic if you can, because:
One strawberry sample contained an astounding 22 pesticide residues. One-third of all conventional strawberry samples contained 10 or more pesticides.”
(And yes, I realize organic may be treated with a limited number of pesticides. That is another post. Click here for the definition of “USDA certified organic.”)
The Clean Fifteen
EWG also lists the Clean Fifteen—the fruit and vegetables with the smallest amounts of pesticide residues. Additionally, EWG found that only 5 percent of the following contained two or more pesticides:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melons
- Kiwi fruit
What about commercial vegetable wash?
Having never bought produce wash, I did some research (i.e. I googled “produce wash”) and the brand Veggie Wash popped up first. With nearly 500 reviews on Amazon, it seems to be a popular brand—or at least one that Amazon pushes. The product touts itself as “All Natural” and “Made with Organic Citrus!”
Consumer products (i.e., products that manufacture need) overpackaged in plastic and plastered with health benefits just about send me over the edge. We pollute the environment and then to supposedly clean up that pollution, buy products that create more pollution.
I had trouble finding the ingredients in this stuff on Amazon but spied a customer picture of the back label on the product page for the gallon jug. That image listed the ingredients as:
- Potassium Oleate
- Decyl Glucoside
- Limonene (Natural Citrus Oil)
- Organic Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil
- Heliunthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
- Rosmarinus Officiallis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract
- Potassium Sorbate
First off, why pay money for water, the main ingredient?
EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database lists the function, potential hazards and health concerns of over 73,000 cosmetics and personal care products. I searched the database for the more questionable ingredients in this produce wash.
- Potassium Oleate is a surfactant (a cleansing agent)
- Decyl Glucoside is also a surfactant
- Potassium Sorbate is used as a fragrance and preservative
These ingredients all had low overall hazard scores—Potassium Sorbate scored the highest—but not as low as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), an “Abrasive; Buffering Agent; Deodorant Agent; Oral Care Agent; Oral Health Care Drug; pH Adjuster; Skin Protectant; Skin Protecting.”
So I am no scientist but this stuff sounds like snake oil. Save your money. You likely already have baking soda in your cupboard. Mix it with water to remove visible residue—and even some invisible pesticide.