Eating fruit and vegetables is fundamental to a healthy diet, but not all consumers are aware of the amount of pesticide residues in these foods.

Eating fruit and vegetables is fundamental to a healthy diet, but not all consumers are aware of the amount of pesticide residues in these foods.


Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides are used to produce them on an industrial level and eliminate pests, which inevitably end up on our plates.

These are, in order, the 12“dirtiest” vegetables and fruits in the United States in 2017, according to the annual list compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting health and the environment.


Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet red peppers and potatoes.

In the case of strawberries, for example, according to data consulted by BBC Mundo in the calculator of the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2015 In a sample of 706 strawberries, traces of about 70 different pesticides were detected, several of which were present in more than 40% of the samples tested.

Skip the recommendations

You may also be interested in

End of recommendations

This means that a strawberry may contain traces of several different pesticides.

In Europe, the highest authority on Health, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), says in its 2017 report that. 43.9% of the more than 84,000 food samples tested contained pesticide residues, although in amounts within the permitted limit.


And a 2014 report by the OCU, an independent consumer organization in Spain, concluded that 64% of the items tested had traces of two or more pesticides and 21% had residues of more than 5.

Pears, apples and strawberries contained the most traces of pesticides among the 90 pieces tested, which were purchased in various markets and supermarkets in Madrid.

But “you can’t generalize” about which fruits and vegetables have the most residues, Carlos de Prada, director of the Toxic-Free Home campaign of the Vivo Sano Foundation, told BBC Mundo.

According to the specialist, neither food consumption nor the use of pesticides is uniform in all countries, and some pesticides are banned in some countries and not in others.

“The cocktail effect”


In general, in both the United States and Europe, the amounts of pesticide residues detected are very small and do not exceed control limits, so authorities say they pose no health risk.

What worries many activists, however, is the combined exposure, albeit in small amounts, to many pesticides at once, known as the “cocktail effect”.

“Although the amounts detected do not exceed the control limits, we found too many different pesticides in the same piece, which could enhance their toxic effects,” says the OCU report.

De Prada, who was involved in the preparation of that report, considers “worrying” the fact that the industry’s safety tests are done only on an individual pesticide.

“But the cocktail effect is not studied,” he says, and he complains that the potential effect of combined pesticides can be “much greater than that of single substances”.


In fact, some scientific studies have linked exposure to a combination of toxic substances such as pesticides with fertility problems, semen quality, effects on brain development in the uterus, cancer and hormonal problems of altered development, especially in children.

In fact, children are considered to be more susceptible to the potential effect of pesticides because they have less body weight than adults and their organs are still developing.

However, while it is good to minimize exposure to pesticides, eating fruits and vegetables regularly is much more important for our health.

How can we reduce pesticide residues?

1. The more organic, the less pesticides.

In general, consuming organic or ecological products, “preferably certified,” says De Prada, is the most direct and effective way to reduce our exposure to pesticide residues.

According to the 2017 EFSA report only 8.3% of the samples tested were found to have pesticide residues (compared to 43.9% for non-organic foods).

But these products can be more expensive and harder to get.

2. Washing them helps… a little

Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly by scrubbing or brushing helps remove some of the residue, but does not remove it completely.

In fact, EWG’s annual “dirtiest” list in the United States is created by analyzing food that has already been washed.

Many blogs on the internet recommend leaving them to soak in water and vinegar, which is a natural disinfectant, or in water with salt or baking soda.

3. Peel or discard the outer leaves of the vegetables.

Pearing fruit and vegetables is another way to reduce pesticide intake, however in doing so we may also remove some of their fibre, mineral and vitamin content.

On the other hand, avocado and pineapple are among the 15 “cleanest” fruits and vegetables for pesticides, according to EWG’s 2017 list for the United States.

However, De Prada points out that the agricultural industry also uses so-called“systemic pesticides“, which are incorporated into the seed itself and get inside the plants.

“They are already sown with poison,” he says. So in those cases peeling them would not eliminate their presence.