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How to wash pesticides off apples, according to science

How to wash pesticides off apples, according to science


Baking soda is better than bleach for washing them apples, but peeling is best

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Holding an apple under running water for a few seconds isn’t enough to get rid of the pesticides on its skin, new research says. Your best bet is to soak your fruit in a baking soda solution — for 12 to 15 minutes. And if you’re really concerned, of course, you can always peel your apples.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst tested a few different ways to wash chemical residue off of produce: the bleach solution that farmers dunk fruit in after harvest, a liquid slurry of baking soda, and plain old tap water. The baking soda was the best at removing the chemicals, they report this week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.  

Pesticides may help crops survive and keep dangerous molds or bugs at bay, but they’re not good to eat. While the exact effects depend on the type of pesticides and the amount you eat, the World Health Organization says that certain pesticides may harm the developing nervous systems of fetuses and children.

Some people cope by choosing to buy organic food. But organic food can be pricey and doesn’t guarantee no pesticides were used. (Some organic farms may use organic pesticides — and naturally occurring pesticides aren’t necessarily safer.) So researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst wanted to figure out the best way to wash off the pesticides. First, they covered organic Gala apples in a fungicide or an insecticide, and let the chemicals soak in for anywhere from a few minutes to a full day. Then, they tried to wash the pesticides off by holding the fruit under the tap or dunking them in the bleach or baking soda solutions for up to 15 minutes. They didn’t, for some reason, test soap.

By measuring the chemicals on the surface and inside the fruit, the researchers discovered that the baking soda solution was better than bleach and water at removing the pesticides. After 12 to 15 minutes in a baking soda bath, the chemicals were completely gone from the fruit’s surface. But there’s bad news: about 20 percent of the fungicide and 4 percent of the insecticide had soaked through the apple’s skin and couldn’t be washed off.

So baking soda isn’t a miracle treatment for removing pesticides. And just because it worked on these apples doesn’t mean it’ll work elsewhere. Until we know more, there’s always another option: it may not look as appealing, but peeling your fruit is probably the best bet.