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Reducing Exposure to Pesticides

March 23, 1989|CHARLYNE VARKONYI | The Baltimore Sun

For people who are concerned about the potential dangers of pesticide residue on produce, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a consumer protection group, suggests the following tips to help limit exposures:

Wash all produce. Washing will remove some but not all pesticide residues on the surface of the item. A mild solution of dish washing soap and water is suggested for better protection, but a thorough rinsing must follow. Many of the pesticides are systemic and are absorbed into the root systems of the plant; these cannot be reduced by washing. At higher risk are those foods with edible portions grown directly in contact with soil, such as celery, carrots and potatoes.

Peel produce when appropriate. This option is a trade-off because nutritionists keep telling us to eat the skin on apples for fiber and to eat the potato skins because the skin is a storehouse of vitamins and minerals. Peeling will completely eliminate surface residues. If you peel, make sure to get fiber from other sources such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, bran, peas, lentils and beans.

Grow your own food. This is not an option for everyone, but it does give those who have room and time to garden more control over their food supply. They can choose which chemicals they use, if any.

Buy organically grown fruits and vegetables. Alternative methods to chemical pest control have been available for many years and their use is increasing. Most organically grown food is produced without addition of chemicals and pesticides during harvesting, storing and shipping. But, remember, an organic label does not mean the food is pesticide-free. Even chemicals banned from agricultural use -- DDT, chlordane and dieldrin -- are still showing up years later in pesticide monitoring.

Buy domestically grown produce and buy it in season. The Food and Drug Administration contends that foreign produce is no less safe than domestic. Some consumer groups disagree, claiming that imported produce generally contains more pesticide residues than domestically grown fruits and vegetables. Foreign produce may also contain residues of pesticides that are banned in the United States. Among the states, only Florida requires labeling by country of origin. Concerned consumers can ask stores' produce managers where a particular product came from.

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