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Pesticide Residues Found In 70% Of Produce Sold In US Even After Washing Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background photo: Pixabay (PD)
Should you be worried about the potential adverse effects of pesticides on the food you eat? According to the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™” by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), more than 70% of conventionally grown fresh produce contain potentially harmful levels of pesticides.  After analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they found that certain fruits and vegetables sold in the country contained pesticide residues even after they were scrubbed, peeled, or washed.
This is in line with a couple of studies that suggest pesticides often penetrate deep into the produce, making washing relatively ineffective in removing the potentially harmful compounds. 
If you’re concerned about consuming potentially harmful pesticides, here’s what you need to know.
Risk Of Exposure To Pesticides
As the report by EWG shows, using pesticides in the soil or spraying them on crops can leave some residue on most fruits and vegetables. 
But contaminated produce is not the only way you can be exposed to pesticides. The compounds can also enter watercourses by soaking through the ground or by running off fields.
According to a decade-long assessment of streams and groundwater by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a concerning 33% of underground wells that contribute to the nation’s water supply had pesticide residues.  Additionally, at least one pesticide was detected in 97% of streams and 61% of shallow groundwater in agricultural areas.
While several regulatory organizations – such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, and the World Health Organization – establish safety limits for pesticide residues in the food supply, they are not always reliable.  Several reviews report cases of food samples that contained pesticide residue levels above the safety limit. 
There’s also the issue of bias with the safety limit. Some of the data used by regulatory authorities to establish safety limits are supplied by industry-funded research.  Some people are also concerned that despite falling within initial safety limits, some pesticide residues can build up in the body over time. 
The Danger Of High Pesticide Exposure
There are tons of different pesticides used to increase yield and reduce crop damage due to germs, insects, rodents, or weeds. For this reason, their potential negative effects on the environment and human health may vary depending on the function and concentration of the pesticides.
High pesticide exposure can cause symptoms of poisoning, including insomnia, diarrhea, nausea, irritation, dizziness, confusion, vomiting, weakness, loss of appetite, mood changes, and headaches.  In more severe cases, pesticide poisoning can lead to breathing difficulty, unconsciousness, chemical burns, muscular incoordination, or even death.
Some of the potential long-term health effects of pesticide exposure include an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 
And according to a study of over 30,000 women published in Occupational and environmental medicine, increased exposure to certain pesticide residues may significantly increase the risk of several types of cancer.  Similarly, the World Health Organization claims that coming into contact with large amounts of pesticides may adversely affect reproduction and cause cancer. 
The health risks associated with pesticide exposure are even more concerning for children. Studies link exposure to high levels of pesticides to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.  Some researchers even suggest that exposure to low levels of pesticides could adversely affect behavioral and neurological development in children. 
Reducing Pesticide Exposure
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a balanced diet. They are highly nutritious, and they offer several health benefits. For this reason, removing them from your dinner table for fear of pesticide residues is not the best solution.
Instead, you can choose safer produce to meet your nutritional needs with minimal health risks due to pesticides.
One way to reduce exposure is by choosing organic produce from crops that are cultivated without the use of potentially harmful pesticides. Studies show that people who eat organic produce have lower levels of synthetic pesticides. 
You can also check out the “The Dirty Dozen” list by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).  It ranks the popular fruits and vegetables based on their level of pesticide contamination. They also have a “Clean 15″ list of fresh produce with the lowest amounts of pesticide residues. This information is updated annually, and it may help you make more informed choices.
Another way to reduce your exposure to pesticides is by practicing proper food preparation. Some studies suggest that processing, cooking, trimming, and peeling fruits and vegetables may significantly reduce the amouunt of pesticide residues. 
Long story short, exposure to pesticide residues is common—and it may adversely affect your health depending on their function and concentration. The best thing you can do is make smarter and more informed shopping decisions to reduce your exposure.
 Environmental Working Group: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
 Yang, T., Doherty, J., Zhao, B., Kinchla, A. J., Clark, J. M., & He, L. (2017). Effectiveness of commercial and homemade washing agents in removing pesticide residues on and in apples. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 65(44), 9744-9752: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29067814/
 Wu, Y., An, Q., Li, D., Wu, J., & Pan, C. (2019). Comparison of different home/commercial washing strategies for ten typical pesticide residue removal effects in kumquat, spinach, and cucumber. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(3), 472: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6388112/
 United States Geological Survey: https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2006/3028/
 Boobis, A. R., Ossendorp, B. C., Banasiak, U., Hamey, P. Y., Sebestyen, I., & Moretto, A. (2008). Cumulative risk assessment of pesticide residues in food. Toxicology letters, 180(2), 137-150: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18585444/
 Robinson, C., Portier, C. J., Čavoški, A., Mesnage, R., Roger, A., Clausing, P., … & Lyssimachou, A. (2020). Achieving a high level of protection from pesticides in Europe: Problems with the current risk assessment procedure and solutions. European Journal of Risk Regulation, 11(3), 450-480: https://www.cambridge.org/…achieving-a-high-level-of-protection-from-pesticides-in-europe…
 Lozowicka, B. (2015). Health risk for children and adults consuming apples with pesticide residue. Science of the Total Environment, 502, 184-198: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25260164/
 European Food Safety Authority. (2017). The 2015 European Union report on pesticide residues in food. EFSA Journal, 15(4), e04791: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4791
 Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2016). Safeguarding with science: glyphosate testing in 2015–2016: https://inspection.canada.ca/food-safety-for-industry/food-chemistry-and-microbiology/food-safety-testing…/glyphosate-testing/…
 Mie, A., Rudén, C., & Grandjean, P. (2018). Safety of safety evaluation of pesticides: developmental neurotoxicity of chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl. Environmental Health, 17(1), 1-5: https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0421-y
 Rocha, G. H. O., Lini, R. S., Barbosa, F., Batista, B. L., de Oliveira Souza, V. C., Nerilo, S. B., … & Nishiyama, P. (2015). Exposure to heavy metals due to pesticide use by vineyard farmers. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 88(7), 875-880: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25549625/
 Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety: https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html
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 Bajwa, U., & Sandhu, K. S. (2014). Effect of handling and processing on pesticide residues in food-a review. Journal of food science and technology, 51(2), 201-220: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24493878/
 Keikotlhaile, B. M., Spanoghe, P., & Steurbaut, W. (2010). Effects of food processing on pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables: a meta-analysis approach. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 48(1), 1-6: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19879312/
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