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Can Chemicals Be Washed Off Your Fruits and Vegetables?

I often get asked if you need to buy those produce washes to clean off your fruits and veggies, especially if they are not organic. My gut instinct has told me two things: One, a little bit of soap and water works just as well, and doesn’t cost much. And two, I have always suspected that you can’t really wash those chemicals off. It’s both good and bad to know, now, that I was right.

A recent study of soybeans reported in Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog, done by the University of Toledo, shows that the chemical triclosan—a pesticide used in antibacterial products; remember, I have said never to use them!—actually runs off into water and the waste materials that are used to treat the crops (if they’re not grown with organic methods). The triclosan is taken up in all parts of the plant, including the bean. So, the chemical is INSIDE the plant and can’t ever be washed off.

How many times do I have to tell y’all to eat organic?!

What’s actually most frightening, though, is that once the water is contaminated with our chemical waste, even organic farmers will have a hard time keeping their plants clean and pure. There is only one solution: to stop buying chemical food and stop using chemicals in your life.

In an ironic twist, a new update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that rich people apparently have the highest levels of triclosan in their blood, and adults have more than children. Why? Probably because rich people can afford all those antibacterial products that contain triclosan, and are often obsessed with hygiene. (At least, the adults are…you know how hard it is to get a kid to wash his or her hands!) Remember, those antibacterial products kill both the good and the bad bacteria, and we need bacteria to live. Killing the good guys make the bad guys even badder.

So, here is my advice:

1. Don’t ever buy a product that says antibacterial on the label (unless it’s vinegar, or something natural and nontoxic like that).

2. Always buy organic food!

3. Always wash your fruits and vegetables before you eat them—just plain water works best.

4. Always wash your hands and your kids’ hands with just plain soap and water.

5. Demand Organic!

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9 Responses to Can Chemicals Be Washed Off Your Fruits and Vegetables?

  1. Laura B. August 11, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    Maria, great topic. There is also evidence that using all those anti-bacterial products help create anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Not to mention sets up child up for a less than vigorous immune-system.
    In order for our immune systems to fight “germs”, it has to be triggered to adapt/fight these germs, therefore, MUST be exposed to some small amounts of “germs” in order to respond to them.

    It all makes perfect sense, & I wholeheartedly agree, “DEMAND ORGANIC!!!”

  2. Diane August 11, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    I really enjoy this blog, but I have to respond to one comment in this entry: “There is only one solution: to stop buying chemical food and stop using chemicals in your life”.

    All of our food is comprised of chemicals – otherwise, we would receive the nutrients and calories (energy) that we need to survive. It is one thing to say that we should try to avoid food that contains synthetic chemicals, but there is no such thing as chemical-free food. And if it is risk we are worried about, than even this revised statement is oversimplistic. Plants make all sorts of interesting chemicals especially when they are stressed. Some of the natural chemicals can also have toxic effects.

    I am a biochemist by training and do have concerns about the all of the dangerous chemicals that end up in our environment and in our bodies. But everything around us (that we can see and that we can’t) is comprised of chemicals. Many are perfectly safe and some absolutely essential for life (think of water and the oxygen we breathe in). To say “stop using chemicals in your life” is an impossible request.

  3. Donna in Delaware August 11, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    There is no such thing as a chemical free world.

  4. Lyn August 11, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    Your statement “even organic farmers will have a hard time keeping their plants clean and pure” implies that organics are so clean they don’t need to be washed. Remember, organic growing methods include the use of insect and disease controls, just different. With all the copper being applied and acceptable in organic practices, I wouldn’t eat an unwashed tomato!

  5. Maya August 11, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    I always wash my (organic) produce before I eat for the same reason I wash new clothes before I wear them (when I can): you just don’t know where’s it’s been! From the field, to trucks, to strangers touching stuff in the store, something might have fallen on the floor…a fresh start with soap and water just makes sense to me.

  6. Bill August 12, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    Maria,
    You’ve not even mentioned systemic pesticides. These work by being absorbed into the plants. When insects eat the plants, they die from the chemicals in the plant tissue. So what happens when people eat the chemicals in the plant tissue?
    Lyn, just because a product is allowed in organic doesn’t mean every farmer is using it. Talk to your farmer! I’ve never used copper on my two acre produce garden in over eight years of production.

  7. Ingrid Hamilton August 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    This is on another subject. Please bear with me, as I do not know where else to get this recipe. It was in your Organic Gardening issue in Jan. 09, I believe. Have turned my house upside down . Kamala Gamble’s: Savory Sweet Potatoes w. roasted garlic, asiago & fresh thyme. I have already contacted Kamala, but she must be too busy.
    Thank you for helping me.
    Ingrid Hamilton

  8. linda June 24, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Now that a lot of major supermarkets are selling organics, it’s important to note that since they also sell conventional and toxic laundry, cleaning, personal care, and other fragranced products full of VOC’s that migrate all over the store, even the organic food becomes so contaminated that most of it could probably no longer pass certification after being in such a store for more than 15 minutes. We can’t wash a loaf of bread, or scrub chard, and some of the fragrance chemicals are designed to stick almost permanently or become absorbed and are impossible to wash off. If you have to avoid synthetic chemicals (like more and more of us do, it’s no longer a choice but a necessity) then getting to know the farmer’s at markets is almost the only way to find safe food unless you can grow your own.

  9. Debbie August 8, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    “Only rich people can afford Triclosan??!” Give me a break.. I was just surfing the net to find a way to wash store bought fruit and ran across your blog. That is a really silly comment. Triclosan is in ALL antibacterial products on the market today, so, even the “poor” are buying them. Wow, I’m guessing the comment was more about slamming the rich than providing information (can we say, liberal agenda…). I have a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Management and, from that standpoint, I will provide some accurate info about Triclosan. Triclosan is polluting our watersheds and probably should be banned. It has a harmful effect on amphibian development, accumulates in aquatic species and some literature states that bacteria may become resistant to it over time. Our children have so little natural exposure to bacteria now that they are actually more susceptible to illness. You were correct in recommending plain old soap. For those who are super paranoid, you can add rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to your hand washing regimen. And I think ALL of us can afford that..

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