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Understanding Food Safety

By: the American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Food and Pesticides

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Consumer demand for perfect fruit, such as ripe, round apples, introduced use of some dangerous pesticides, such as alar.

Additives can, in some cases, be a positive ingredient -- but some chemicals used in the produce growing process, called pesticides, can be quite bad for you. Pesticides are used to protect and enhance crops. But their harmful effects have caused a considerable amount of negative press in recent years.

The alar scare in apples brought it all home -- the fear that what we are spraying on our food to deter insects and organisms is poisoning us as well. Sometimes, it's not even in the name of preserving crops from damage, but merely to make produce look better. The fault for that lies exclusively with us. Yes, us. It is consumers who will only buy the best-looking produce, with no wormholes, torn leaves, green in their oranges, or less than perfectly shiny red apples; we drive the demand for such pesticides.

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The Organic Revolution

"Natural" may be a slowly dying concept, but "organic" is becoming a mainstay in supermarkets. Fortunately, certification organizations have aided the difficult task of knowing what's organic and what's not. Even the government has attempted to enter the fray.

With reports of the numbers of pesticides lurking on your fruits and vegetables, and the revelation that washing and even peeling won't get rid of all of it, the simple solution seems to be stop eating fruits and vegetables. Bad move. The disease prevention benefits fruits and vegetables offer far outweigh any risks they pose from the pesticides they harbor.

The best advice is to eat a wide variety of both fruits and vegetables. This cuts down on your exposure to any one pesticide. Heed the following tips for further protection:

  • Wash all fruits and vegetables; scrub with a vegetable brush (not raspberries, of course). Use a very dilute solution of dishwashing liquid in water.
  • If you can afford only a few of your vegetable purchases to be organic, make it the root vegetables you buy, like carrots, rutabagas, and turnips. They accumulate more pesticides than others when grown conventionally. Otherwise, trim an inch off the root end; that's where most of the pesticides concentrate.
  • Peel your produce, especially if waxed, as apples, cukes, and eggplants often are. You'll lose some fiber, of course, but not most of it, and though some pesticides penetrate into the interior, you'll be rid of whatever remains on the peel. (The nonabsorbable wax itself is considered harmless, but it's usually mixed with a fungicide you'd rather avoid.)
  • In the same vein, discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
  • Buy locally whenever possible; waxes are less likely to be used.
  • West-coast grown produce usually requires less fungicide than produce grown in the humid East.
  • Avoid imported produce as much as possible; it's typically higher in pesticide residues.

Susan Male Smith, M.A., R.D., is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant who specializes in consumer health writing. She is assistant editor of the newsletter Environmental Nutrition and writes the "Food News" column in Family Circle magazine. Her writing has also appeared in Redbook, McCall's, American Health, and Women's Health Advisor.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.