How to Remove Pesticides from Food

Pesticide-Free Hints


The Produce Without The Poison: How to Avoid Pesticides

Cantaloupe: Pop's got the ladder. 
(Favorite joke of Mr. Hughes, my high school English teacher.)

Real-world people shop at supermarkets, and real-world affordable fruits and vegetables contain pesticide residues. Not everybody can buy organic; not everybody is a gardener. Here are easy and effective ways to reduce your chemical consumption.

Rule number one: Wash your fruits like you wash your hands: "Use soap, Jimmy!" Mom and Dad were right: just running your mitts or your munchies under tap water does little to remove oily grime. Most agricultural pesticides do not come off in water, either. If they did, farmers would have to apply them after each rain or even a heavy dew. That would be both labor-intensive and expensive. So petrochemical companies make pesticides with chemical "stickers" that are insoluble in water. They do their job and stay on the fruit, rain or shine.

Soap, or detergent, is more effective in removing pesticide residues than you think. You can prove this for yourself. Take a big bunch of red or green grapes, and place them, with a squirt of dishwashing detergent, in a large bowl or pan of water. Mix the detergent in thoroughly, and swish the grapes around for a minute. Carefully watch the water. You will see evidence that detergent works. If you do not think that that stuff is pesticide residue, try another bowl of grapes in water without detergent, and try another bowl of organically-grown grapes in water with detergent. Seein' is believin.'

It is necessary to thoroughly and repeatedly rinse detergent-washed fruits before eating, of course, but that is hardly a burden. Rinse until the water is clear. When you handle the detergent-washed fruit, you will also notice that it feels different, too. We are so used to fruit with chemical coatings on it that when we touch truly clean fruit, it's a new tactile experience. Go ahead, try it. Nobody's looking.

Baking soda, largely because it is alkaline, is quite effective in breaking down and removing many pesticides. Soaking in a water solution, or directly applying a water paste, seems to do the job.

Oddly enough, just the act of washing (with anything) helps if you then rub the produce dry with a paper towel. You guessed it: it is the mechanical rubbing that removes much of the pesticide.

Even if you do not believe that pesticides pose the slightest health risk, there is no down side to not eating them. Whatever benefits they may confer on the tree, pesticides do you no good in your gut. Children may consume disproportionally large amounts of pesticides because kids eat a lot of fruit relative to their body weight. For parents, there is a measure of comfort in knowing that their kid's chemical intake has been minimized.

In my opinion, newly detergent-washed-and-thoroughly-rinsed fruit does not keep very well.  The former petrochemical coating probably served as a moisture barrier and even an oxidation barrier.  No worries: you only wash before you eat.

In case you think I am taking too easy-going a view on chemical farming, I would like to point out that I am an avid organic gardener. I also advocate purchasing chemical-free foods whenever possible, including organically-grown produce. It costs more to buy organic, but, if you can afford it, it is probably money well spent. Home gardening, on the other hand, is an incredibly cheap alternative.  All those stories that you hear about a thirty-dollar investment in seed and fertilizer yielding seven hundred dollars worth of fresh food are literally true.  If you think I'm more full of fertilizer than my garden is, I recommend that you try it and see. For starters, you could try leaf lettuce, zucchini squash, cucumbers, bush green beans, and a dozen tomato plants. You will soon be supplying half the neighborhood. 

A cheap organic gardening hint: none of the veggies I just mentioned require any pesticides to grow well.

Another cheapskate hint: save those potatoes that are "no good" because they've sprouted "eyes." Don't throw them away; plant them.  The "eyes" are indeed sprouts, each of which will grow into an entire potato plant bearing several, or even many, spuds. Cut the 'tater up and plant each piece a sprout on it. No pesticides needed here, either.

Pesticides are bug poisons. It is hard to kill an insect. I distinctly recall flea powdering my Basset hound, an activity I performed frequently. I'd dust that dog so well that he looked like one of the Three Stooges with a sack of flour poured on him. There would be heaps of flea powder in the dog's nooks and crannies, and I watched fleas walk and even tunnel through piles of poison powder without ill effect. Bugs are tough little stinkers, all right.  And you eat the stuff they try to kill them with. Delish!

So, as it takes a lot of spray to stop a hungry bug, it takes at least a little detergent to remove the spray. Or, you could insist on no sprays, and consequently be willing accept more insect marks and damage. Would you buy such produce? No? Then we need to be honest, admit it, and be willing to clean the fruit effectively.

Many fruits and vegetables are not merely sprayed, but are waxed as well. So-called "food grade" waxes improve appearance and shelf life . . . and coat over and lock in any previously applied pesticides. This poses a problem, for waxes do not readily dissolve in detergent solution. It is likely that vinegar (either cider or white) will remove some or most of the wax if you take the time to soak. You might find a product or two on the market that is claimed to remove waxes from fruits. I doubt their effectiveness, unless the seller can demonstrate that their product will dissolve a birthday candle. The other alternative is to simply peel them. Frequently waxed fruits include apples, pears, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, and even tomatoes are generally waxed. The lack of a high gloss is not proof positive that a fruit is unwaxed: many waxes, like many types of floor polyurethane or spray varnish, are not at all shiny. One way to tell if a fruit or vegetable is waxed is to run your fingernail over it and see if you can scrape anything off.  Another way is to read the producer's label and see if the produce is waxed.  This may require a trip in back to the warehouse to see the actual crate or carton that the produce came in. Rotsa' ruck on that.

A peeler costs a buck, and effectively removes wax.  Baking soda, dish detergent, vinegar, and a couple of paper towels costs a very little. And for more information, an internet search or a visit to a helpful librarian at your public library costs nothing. Again, I would pass on pricey products.

For more pesticide-reducing reading, I recommend:

Dworkin, S and Dworkin, F. (1974) The Good Goodies. New York: Fawcett Crest. ISBN 0-449-23964-0 

Dworkin, S and Dworkin, F. (1974) The Apartment Gardener. New York: Signet

Fritsch, A. and The Center for Science in the Public Interest (1977) 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle. New York: Anchor-Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-12493-7 Library of Congress 76-54756

Issac, K and Gold, S ed (1987) Eating Clean 2: Overcoming Food Hazards. Washington, D.C.: Center for Study of Responsive Law. ISBN 0-936758-21-X.  Library of Congress 87-73555

Kulvinskas, Viktoras (1975) Survival into the 21st Century. Wethersfield, CT: Omangod Press. 

Robertson, Laurel, et al (1976) Laurel's Kitchen. New York: Bantam. 

Taub, H. J. (1975) Keeping Healthy in a Polluted World.  New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-003995-3

Turner, J. (1970) The Chemical Feast. New York: Grossman. Library of Congress 73-112515

Wigmore, A. (1964) Why Suffer? NY: Hemisphere Press. 

Wigmore, Ann (1982) Recipes for Longer Life. Garden City Park, NY: Avery. 

Copyright  C  2003 and prior years Andrew W. Saul. Revised 2019.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )



Andrew W. Saul


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