Pesticides and Cleaning Your Food
Pesticide use is a topic that often leads to much discussion and debate. Some consider it an important and beneficial practice, while others view it as a cause for alarm, as exposure can be a source of health problems. Although concerns are frequently associated with eating farm-grown foods, there are other ways for exposure to occur. For example, farmers, gardeners, and even homeowners may unintentionally inhale pesticides when applying them to crops or grass or come into physical contact with them. Traces of a pesticide can linger in the soil and run off into water even after its use has been discontinued. As a result, people may be exposed to small amounts of pesticides, even on their food, when it is not expected. Because pesticides are a reality that is presently still quite common, it's important for people to understand the potential health risks, how they impact food, and steps that can be taken to reduce their consumption.
Impact of Pesticides on Food
Prior to the regular use of pesticides, food crops were plagued by problems such as destructive insects and fungi. These problems could result in the destruction of crops, and as a consequence, farmers produced less food for consumption. Pesticides have impacted the food supply by increasing the amount of edible food produced. According to the EPA, pesticides eliminate not only insects and fungi but other concerns that are defined as agricultural pests, such as mold, rodents, bacteria, and weeds.
The use of pesticides leaves a small amount of residue on vegetables and fruits. In terms of food safety, the government regulates the amount of residue to ensure that it remains at a level that is considered safe. Despite this, pesticides are still toxic, and there are no assurances that even in small amounts, pesticide residue is safe for consumption. Additionally, pesticides impact certain foods, such as grapes, spinach, apples, and strawberries, more than others. For this reason, cleaning food is important to remove as much of the remaining traces of pesticides as possible.
People may also come into contact with traces of pesticides when eating foods other than those that grow from the earth. Runoff from pesticide-treated areas may eventually make its way into the water, where fish inevitably come into contact with these substances. Animals such as cows and chickens are given feed that may have come from corn or wheat that was treated with pesticides. As a result, when these animals are butchered and sold for their meat, there may also be traces of pesticides remaining.
Impact of Pesticides on the Body
Exposure to pesticides can cause a number of health problems, particularly for high-risk individuals. Because children are still developing, even small amounts of pesticides can potentially cause problems with their health. As a result, they are considered to be at high risk, as are pregnant women and their fetuses. For children and fetuses, even low doses of pesticides may cause birth defects, problems with their immune systems or motor skills, a delay in their development, autism, and even behavioral problems. Others who fall under the high-risk umbrella include seniors and people with weakened immune systems. In general, pesticides may raise one's risk of developing some forms of cancer, including breast or prostate cancer. They may further strain weakened immune systems or cause one to suffer from increased headaches. The exact impact of pesticides ultimately depends on the type of pesticide, the means of exposure, and how frequently one is exposed to it.
Cleaning Pesticides From Food
Cleaning food prior to eating or cooking it reduces the risks associated with pesticide residue on food, even if that risk is considered minimal. Before cleaning food such as cabbage or lettuce, remove the outer leaves. Running warm or cold water and a vegetable scrub brush are typically all that are needed to remove surface pesticides as well as dirt and contaminants from fruits and vegetables. Soap is not recommended, and special cleaners are not necessary. Pesticides can also settle in the fat of meat, fish, and chicken. While the pesticides in these items cannot technically be cleaned or rinsed away, trimming the fat can help remove some of the pesticide residue that may reside there.
- Chemicals in Food
- The Controversy Surrounding GMOs and Pesticides
- The Problem With Pesticides
- Safer Food for a Healthier You: Produce and Pesticide Residue
- Pesticides and Children
- FDA Pesticide Q&A
- Pesticides on Food
- Pesticides and Wildlife
- Sustainable Table: Pesticides
- Pesticides: What You Need to Know
- Pesticide Residue in Foods: The Safety Issue (PDF)
- Medical Reference: Pesticides
- Health Risks of Pesticides in Foods (PDF)
- Pesticides and Food: Healthy, Sensible Food Practices
- Pesticides and Food Safety (PDF)
- Handling Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Safely