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What are the major methods to be followed to minimize the effect of pesticides or their residues that may be in or on vegetables I buy? Does it differ according to the vegetables? If so, I am specifically interested in vegetables like tomatoes, brinjal, bittergourd, etc.

Usually we put the vegetables in salt water for some hours before cooking. Please let me know if there are other effective methods to prevent the pesticide residues from affecting me.

  • I'm trying to understand what you're asking. Do you mean that you're buying vegetables that might have had pesticides used on them at some point in their life cycle, and you want to be confident that residues of these pesticides won't harm you when you eat them? Or are you the one growing the vegetables? – Kate Gregory Oct 28 '14 at 14:51
  • @KateGregory: The first case, buying vegetables. – Son of Earth Oct 30 '14 at 17:49
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One of the best ways to minimize the impact of pesticides on vegetables as a consumer is to plant a garden (or buy from someone with growing practices you trust and understand). That way you know most of what's going into it (other than environmental pollution and such, which is probably present in the others in equivalent amounts anyway). Growing indoors is another option. Make sure your soil has the right things in it to produce nutritious plants. Some basalt rockdust in compost shouldn't hurt to help your outdoor garden out. Other people may have other recommendations.

With apples, if your area is like mine, your major problem will probably be worms (some kind of caterpillar, probably) getting black holes in your apples. Treating that without pesticides may be a challenge, but just for the record, wormy apples are still edible (you just have to cut the part out that the worm eats through).

I recommend experimenting with tomatoes a lot. Try to grow some inside. It might be easier than you think. I've got a tomato in my bedroom windowsill (which does not get a whole lot of light) in a very small jar with a mixture of clay-type topsoil and potting soil, and it's still growing flowers after a few months. I did use a little fertilize after it looked like it needed it, though. So, I imagine with a grow light and more and better soil things would be a whole lot better. I just planted some new tomato seeds fresh from another tomato after soaking them in water with hydrogen peroxide for hours (longer than I meant to), and they germinated in just a few days. I guess hydrogen peroxide must help! I'm not experienced with eggplants or bittergourds, however.

Here are some seed sites that I enjoy (there are lots more out there), in no particular order, and which may help you if you want to garden (free printed catalogs are also a plus):

As for sticking to the supermarkets, washing is going to be good for some chemicals. Some chemicals might permeate the whole fruit, to some degree, though. However, even then, washing is probably better than nothing. What you use to wash may have a considerable impact, but it probably won't be a great help in every case.

It's good to know that even organic alternatives to synthetic chemicals are still sometimes problematic. For example, with apples, they might use copper to protect or treat the trees. You may get more copper in your diet as a result. The trees probably absorb more copper, too (so, washing it off won't be entirely effective). However, maybe you need extra copper in your diet (it depends on your levels and how much is in the fruit).

You may also be concerned about such as fungicides and anti-bacterial agents for plants, rather than just pesticides.

One alternative to trying to wash all the pesticides off your fruit would be to rinse the fruits off and then peel them. That way, you know you're not eating wax and chemicals stuck in the wax. Some food waxes may actually be healthy, but the chemicals mixed in them may not be.

Sending requests to the businesses who grow, process and sell the food is a good idea, too, I think. It may not immediately solve the problem, but it should help everyone at least a little bit in the long run.

Also, avoiding the chemicals may not always be practical. So, being healthy enough to withstand them is a very good idea. Make sure your liver and kidneys are healthy (this should help you to get rid of the chemicals when you eat them). Milk thistle and other herbs may be good for your liver if it needs help. Avoid alcohol/drugs. Get enough sunlight, fresh clean air, exercise, and other good stuff.

Another thing you could try instead of just salt water is food grade diatomaceous earth mixed with water. That chelates a lot of stuff and detoxifies considerably. It would probably help with your fruit (and maybe help to remove the wax, too, due to its texture). Just rinse it off afterward (it rinses right off with water). I've never tried this, and I doubt anyone else has either, but I think it might help, and it should be safe.

In summary, there are lots of chemicals out there that people might use, and new ones arise. You could become an expert on every single one, or you could grow your own garden, even if it has to be indoors and become an expert in something a little more cheery instead (gardening is good for you). However, if you have to get it from the supermarket, washing and peeling is probably a good idea. Live healthfully (not just as it pertains to pesticides). Maybe consider food grade diatomaceous earth with water for washing.

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If it was easy to remove any pesticide or residue from a large variety of fruits and vegetables, by rinsing or soaking them in some easily-available harmless product, then there would be far less need for activists to try to get companies to stop using such products on our food. (Not zero need: the effect on farm workers, on bees, and on the ground where the products are grown add up quite severely.) But one of the reasons people buy organic food or grow their own is that it's often very difficult to remove the pesticides. Washing and peeling only work for certain applications - those that leave a film on the surface, for example - and in some cases the peel is an important part of the food.

However, you didn't ask how to remove the pesticides. You asked how to avoid bad effects on you. I suggest, in order of importance:

  • try to source organic vegetables. They will not have had pesticides applied to them.
  • if you can only afford (or find) certain vegetables without pesticides, make sure you choose the ones you eat the most and cannot peel. For example, greens like spinach or kale can't be peeled and can be hard to wash.
  • investigate the particular vegetables you buy a lot and learn whether pesticides are even used on them where yours are grown. Some plants don't need to be treated with pesticides. Adjust your eating patterns to eat more of those. If some of the produce you buy is imported at certain times of the year, investigate whether the imported produce is more or less likely to have been treated with pesticides. Consider not eating that item again until it is in season locally if you have a local non-treated source.
  • wash produce in plain water, or possibly with a little vinegar. Both bleach and hydrogen peroxide can be dangerous if you don't dilute enough or rinse enough, and there is no evidence they help. The same applies to salt water and to commercially available vegetable washes
  • peel non organic produce even if you normally wouldn't (eg apples, cucumber)

In the long run, your most effective strategies are to stop buying produce that has been treated with pesticides (by growing your own or buying organic) and to join movements that try to encourage producers to use less pesticides. You may have to give up certain foods, or give them up at certain times of the year, if you want to take in less pesticide residue.

Alternatively, you could decide to trust your government. The world over, there are standards for how much pesticide residue can remain in food, and inspectors who check to see the standards are being met. If you live somewhere where such rules are generally set with safety in mind (rather than profit), where most producers comply with the rules, and where inspectors operate honestly and with public safety in mind, then you may decide that you are worrying about nothing and you can eat purchased produce with no more concerns. I understand that not all governments and cultures meet these standards.

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Your question is quite broad, but I've been following the following practice for non-organic apples, once recommended to me by a bio-chemist. Apparently, apples are usually sprayed with oil/wax-based pesticides. The oil "protects" the apples from yeasts/pests and "keeps the face pretty". You can use normal soap (e.g. dish-washing liquid) to remove the oil/wax layer.

You might have noticed that washing non-organic apples only with water usually leaves the apples sticky. The soap removes the oil/wax layer (including the pesticides in this layer) leaving the apple smooth.

As soap is water-soluble, a good rinse should get rid of all the soap. Even if you end up eating a little bit of soap, you should consider washing non-organic apples with soap, because the oil/wax will most likely be indigestible (never mind the toxins still contained in this layer), whereas soap is biodegradable and certainly easily digested (and especially harmless if you use "normal" "organic" soap).

I imagine this generalizes easily to other fruits & vegetables, especially those treated with oil/wax-based pesticides.

  • Thank you for the answer, but I don't think this will work with vegetables. Different types of pesticides are used in various stages of growing vegetables. Consider the pesticides sprayed in the flowering stage, and those can not be removed by the suggested method. As you pointed,it will work with oil/wax based pesticides which are only used after maturing the fruits. – Son of Earth Oct 28 '14 at 7:44
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    If you have vegetables sprayed with pesticides throughout their growth, how much do you expect to get rid of using extremely basic methods, such as soaking in salty water? Maybe you should add why you don't just buy organic foods in the first place, if you're worried about pesticides. – Earthliŋ Nov 4 '14 at 9:05
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Different groups have put forward different lists of foods one should always buy organic and foods one does not need to buy organic. To make it catchy, some have created a Dirty Dozen list and a Clean 15 list. Different groups have assembled different lists, with some overlap. Here are items I've found on various Dirty Dozen lists that have some of the highest pesticide content, and which one is advised to always buy organic. Notice there is some apparent duplication because some lists say grapes whereas others say only imported grapes are problematic for pesticides.

Apples

Blueberries (Domestic)

Celery

Cherries

Cherry Tomatoes

Collard Greens

Cucumbers

Grapes

Grapes (Imported)

Hot Peppers

Kale

Lettuce

Nectarines

Nectarines (Imported)

Peaches

Pears

Potatoes

Snap Peas (Imported)

Spinach

Strawberries

Sweet Bell Peppers

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I wash vegetables under tap water. For leafy vegetables I use potassium permanganate solution. That's all, no complicated processes :)

The following explanatory paragraph was taken from article Potassium Permanganate to Wash Vegetables. Also have a look at How to clean Fruits and Vegetables for more information.

Potassium permanganate solutions effectively remove a variety of chemical pesticide residues from fruits and vegetables, making them safer to consume. Dilute solutions will degrade chlorinated solvents, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, phenolics, organo-pesticides and substituted aromatics. As one example, AGRIS, the International Information System for the Agricultural Sciences and Technology, an information management program started by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reported in 2010 that Leafy Chinese-Kale treated with a 0.001 percent potassium permanganate solution effectively removed pesticide residues. Washing vegetables in potassium permanganate removed more pesticide residue than washing in water alone.

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    Thanks THelper, I have updated my answer. Hope it will benefit all. – NP3 Nov 13 '14 at 8:57

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