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Reducing Pesticide Residues from your Food

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
November 29, 2017

Submitted by: Brenda Postels
Interim Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties


Reducing Pesticide Residues from your Food
By Brenda Postels, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (11/29/17) — Pesticides are chemicals used to prevent, control, repel or destroy any insect, rodent, snail, slug, fungus, weed or virus (except on a living person or animal).  They include fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and rodenticides.  They are commonly used on the food we eat to control pests that may damage the crops during production, storage or transport. Pesticides allow growers to increase the amount of usable food from each crop at the time of harvest. Pesticides may also improve the quality, safety, and shelf-life of certain foods. For consumers, this means access to a wide variety of affordable foods, grown locally or imported from other states or countries.

Before a pesticide can be used on a food crop, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) must determine whether that pesticide can be used without posing an unreasonable risk to human health.  The US-EPA also determines what the maximum amount of pesticide residue is that can legally remain in or on a particular food. The pesticide residue monitoring program is a compliance program used by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor the level of pesticide chemical residues in domestic and imported foods to ensure that they do not exceed the EPA limits or tolerances

By the time food reaches your grocery store, pesticide residues are generally well below the legal limit, or tolerance.  However, low levels of pesticide residues may still remain on some foods, even organic foods.
The following tips will help you further reduce pesticide residues (as well as dirt and bacteria) that may remain on the food you eat. 

• First, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize the potential of increased exposure to a single pesticide.
• Thoroughly wash all produce, even that which is labeled organic and that which you plan to peel.
• Wash your produce under running water rather than soaking or dunking it.
• Do not use soap or bleach as these can penetrate the skin of produce and be unhealthy to ingest.
• Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel when possible.
• Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, like melons and root vegetables.
• Discard the outer layer of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce or cabbage.
• Peel fruits and vegetables when possible.

In addition, you may consider growing your own garden, or participating in a community garden! This will allow you to control which pesticides, if any, are used on the food you eat. You can choose Integrated Pest Management (IPM) options that allow you to control garden pests with the least possible hazard.

If growing your own food is not possible, other options include buying fresh from your local farmers market, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or on-farm food stands. This way, you can speak directly to the farmers about their pesticide use practices before buying their food.

Using healthy, sensible food practices will allow you to further reduce your exposure to any pesticide residues that may remain on your food.

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