Since they are grown without pesticides, do organic fruits and vegetables need to be washed?


Timothy Griffin, PhD, the Teri and Barry Volpert Family Professor in Nutrition, Agriculture, and Sustainable Food Systems at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, answers: “It is not the case that all organic produce is grown without pesticides. U.S. Organic Standards allow the use of certain pesticides on organic crops. These are mostly derived from natural sources, while conventional farming uses many synthetic (man-made) pesticides. Organic produce may therefore have residue from pesticides approved for organic farming or because of environmental flow (aerial drift, for example) from conventional farms.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all fresh produce be washed thoroughly under running water before eating, even if it is organic, grown at home, or bought at a farmers’ market. This is partly to remove any pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide residue, but also to wash away microbes clinging to the crops that might cause food-borne illness. The overall risk of organic foods being contaminated with bacteria is the same as that of conventional foods.

“Hard produce like apples can be scrubbed with a brush, while delicate fruits and vegetables like berries can be swished in clean water. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash is not recommended. To further reduce exposure to pesticide residues, discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables. One can also peel fruits and vegetables that can be peeled, like apples, but edible skins are a good source of fiber, so thorough washing is preferred.

“Keep in mind that the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh potential dangers from any chemical residues that may remain after you’ve taken the necessary steps to clean your fresh produce.”


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