Pesticides and Produce?

Do you ever wonder what chemicals might be in or on the fruits and vegetables you buy and eat? When purchasing produce from the grocery store, it is nearly impossible to know their source, and whether or not the farms they come from have sustainable and safe growing practices.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring raised public awareness about this issue back in the 60s. In her 1962 book, Carson wrote, “A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power.”

Here are the basics: agro-chemicals (chemicals used in agriculture) in the U.S. generally include insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

Insecticides are chemical substances that shock and kill insects that may try to feed on crops.

Herbicides are also generally known as weed killers, which knock out any unwanted plants that may interfere with crop productivity.

Lastly, fungicides are chemical compounds used to kill off fungi (like mildew).

If you are interested in learning more about agro-chemicals  – check out the following study from UC Berkeley:

You could also read about this 2017 study conducted by Harvard public health researchers who found a connection between consuming pesticide residue on produce and infertility in women.

Read the full TIME story here:

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) posts a guide to clean and dirty produce that helps raise awareness among consumers. “Dirty” produce includes both organic and conventionally grown foods that have tested positive for pesticide contamination. “Clean” foods are fruits and vegetables that contain less dangerous levels of pesticide residue. Some of this year’s foods with heightened concerns included strawberries, kale, spinach, peaches, and tomatoes. To see other foods in the “dirty dozen”, check the list out here!

Who tracks all of these chemicals?

The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 designates that the federal government monitors chemicals in farmed food and gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate how much of such substances is allowed for human consumption. The EPA assigns commercial pesticides into two categories, major and minor use (for specialty crops grown on a much smaller scale). The USDA and FDA are responsible for keeping the public informed by researching and publishing the latest findings on pesticides in the U.S. food supply.

Here is a link to a  list of what kinds of chemicals we allow on food, on EPA’s website here:

So, if you do bring home fruits and veggies from the grocery, how can you be sure that they are safe to eat? Sometimes chemicals aren’t just present on the surface of foods, but can be in the actual flesh of the produce.

To increase safety, the FDA recommends that you use the following steps in preparing your fruits and vegetables:

– Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.

– If damage or bruising occurs before eating or handling, cut away the damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.

– Rinse produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.

– Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.

– Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.

– Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.

It’s smart to question where your food comes from. Organic food often comes with a high price tag in most places – so that means it’s not accessible to everyone. Several ways to increase access to safe, fresh food are:

  • Grow food! Many communities offer space in community gardens for free and there are a wide range of DIY ideas available to grow food in window boxes and hanging baskets, on porches, decks, fences, and walls as well as front and rear yards.
  • Find a local group that offers regular, affordable, local food boxes or bags direct from community farms. Look for local farmers markets – many have more affordable prices than you would expect!
  • Get to know you local growers – find out their farming methods, what kind of pest management and fertilizers they use. Many will sell food at reduced rates if they are “perfect” for other markets. A great example of this would be the Garden Bags we distribute through Top Box Foods Louisiana If this is something you’re interest in trying, follow this link:



“Elixirs of Death .” Silent Spring, by Rachel L. Carson, Mifflin, 1962, p.17.

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