The Complete Guide to Pesticides in Produce
Over 70% of fresh produce contains pesticides. Here’s what you need to know.
If one were to take a trip to the local grocery store and stop by the fruit and vegetable section to look for the perfect item to add to their menu, they would probably see some packages advertising that their contents are free of pesticides. But what exactly are pesticides, and why should you care?
In a nutshell, pesticides are used to control pests that could harm plants, such as insects, rodents, bacteria, and fungi. Not only are they bad for the environment, but they’re also bad for you (and your guests)!
Pesticides have been linked to cancer, decreased protection against cardiovascular disease, and other health problems. Unfortunately, they’re found in over 70% of non-organic fresh produce — even after the fruit or vegetable has been washed, scrubbed, or peeled.
What Produce Has the Most Pesticides?
Not sure which types of produce contains the most pesticides? Don’t worry! Here’s a recap of EWG’s 2022 Dirty Dozen:
- Strawberries: Diners love strawberries in everything from shortcakes to cocktails. They’re packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, but they’re also highly likely to contain residue from two or more pesticides. In fact, 90% of strawberry samples tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides. So, next time you’re thinking about adding a strawberry dish to your menu, consider an alternative like cantaloupe, kiwi, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries.
- Spinach: Spinach is an excellent source of folic acid and vitamins A and C. But it also often contains pesticide residues. Spinach actually has 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight compared to other crops! Spinach alternatives with lower pesticide levels include asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and Romaine lettuce.
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens: On the other hand, kale, collard, and mustard greens have a high number of pesticides. 103 pesticides were detected in these greens, and a single sample contained up to 21 different pesticides! However, DCPA, a possible human carcinogen, is the pesticide most frequently found on kale, collards, and mustard greens.
- Nectarines: Nectarines are sweet, juicy, and full of potassium and vitamins. Since they contain a lot of pesticides, you might be better off adding a nectarine alternative to your menu, such as cantaloupes, grapefruits, watermelon, tangerines, or canned peaches.
- Apples: An apple a day keeps the doctor away! But it’s also worth noting that over 90% of the apple samples tested had residues from two or more pesticides. Alternatives to apples that are equally delicious and nutritious include bananas, oranges, kiwis, mangoes, tangerines, and watermelons.
- Grapes: Grapes are a great source of vitamin A and potassium, but 90% of grapes tested had residues from two or more pesticides.
- Bell and hot peppers: Unfortunately, over a hundred pesticides were detected on red, green, and hot peppers. If you decide to cut back on peppers, alternatives include broccoli, green peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, asparagus, and Romaine lettuce.
- Cherries: Cherries are another fruit that tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides. Alternatives to cherries include blueberries, grapefruits, raspberries, cantaloupes, and oranges.
- Peaches: Like nectarines, peaches are sweet — and they’re also home to pesticide residue. If you’re looking for a peach alternative, consider using canned peaches, cantaloupes, grapefruits, watermelons, or tangerines in your dish.
- Pears: Pears are great in everything from tarts to bread to pizza. To ensure diners still get their folic acid and vitamins without as much pesticide residue, consider using oranges, canned pears, or canned peaches instead.
- Celery: Celery is crunchy, fresh, and packed with antioxidants, potassium, and vitamins A and C. However, to avoid exposure to pesticides, broccoli, radishes, carrots, and romaine lettuce might be better alternatives for your dish.
- Tomatoes: Everyone loves a ripe, juicy tomato! Unfortunately, like the other fruits and vegetables on this list, tomatoes contain many pesticides.
Regularly consuming these fruits or vegetables means regularly consuming pesticide residue, as each item on this list contains 47 to 67 pesticides per serving. Exposure to these pesticides could negatively impact your diners’ health.
The ‘Clean Fifteen’
The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom! EWG also put out their 2022 Clean Fifteen List, which covers produce with the lowest amounts of pesticides. Included on the list were avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, sweet peas, asparagus, honeydew melon, kiwi, cabbage, mushrooms, cantaloupe, mangoes, watermelon, and sweet potatoes.
Nearly 70% of these samples had no detectable residues from pesticides, and just under 5% had residues from two or more pesticides. You can’t go wrong with any of these fruits or vegetables! However, avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest of the bunch. In fact, avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, and sweet peas only tested positive for a maximum of three pesticides per sample.
What Chemicals Are Sprayed on Produce?
When it comes to pesticides in fruits and vegetables, quite a few chemicals have likely been sprayed on your produce before it reaches you. Everything from metabolic inhibitors to fumigants to food additives to coloring additives might be used to ensure your food arrives in peak shape.
Do Pesticides Get Inside Produce?
Some people don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables out of fear of pesticides. While it’s true that it is possible to have pesticides in fruits and vegetables, the pesticide residue is generally low. In fact, the amount of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables is lower today than in the past.
Pesticide residue can be found on over 70% of non-organic produce. However, nearly all pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables were below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limits. Essentially, pesticide residue is so tiny that there’s very low risk when consuming conventional produce.
However, if you’re still worried about pesticides and want to provide your diners with quality, safe food, incorporate local, organic produce into your menu. Organic produce means farmers use organic pesticides for agriculture. These organic food pesticides provide protection without potentially impacting health.
Not sure where to find organic produce? Check out Riviera Produce! We have a wide selection of delicious, locally sourced, organic wholesale produce that will make the perfect addition to your menu.
Organic Doesn’t Equal Pesticide-Free
Most people automatically assume that organic produce is free of pesticides, but the truth is that plenty of pesticides are used in organic farming, too. While most organic food pesticides are natural, some synthetics are also used.
Some pesticides approved by the USDA for organic produce include boric acid, hydrogen peroxide, horticultural vinegar, coniothyrium minitans, copper, and copper sulfate. Other pesticides on the USDA’s list of approved organic farming pesticides are Bacillus subtilis, corn gluten, lime sulfur, oils, non-detergent insecticidal soaps, peracetic acid, streptomycin sulfate, sabadilla, ryania, and cydia pomonella granulosis.
While these names can sound scary, they can safely protect produce. After all, the pesticide residue left behind is even tinier than the amount left behind on conventional produce. What’s more, eating organic food has been linked to several health benefits, including improved fertility, lower urinary pesticide levels, reduced incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, and lower BMI.
Source Quality Organic Food with Riviera Produce’s Help
Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. Plus, they’re delicious! Your diners will love dishes that feature fresh fruits and vegetables and benefit from lower blood pressure and reduced risk of developing heart disease or strokes. However, fruits and vegetables are also often sprayed with chemicals and may contain pesticide residue, even after cleaning.
While you shouldn’t exclude any fruits or vegetables from your menu based on pesticide concerns, using organic options can ease your mind and provide diners with various health benefits. If you need to source organic produce, look no further than Riviera Produce!
We work with local farms that adhere to high-quality sanitation standards and provide locally sourced, fresh, organic produce. Our farm partners use natural fertilizers. They also use organic pesticides for vegetables and fruits, so the crops they grow are free of dangerous chemicals.