An apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, but what about all those pesticides?
Well, researchers at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst had the same question and published a study Wednesday in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, detailing the best method for washing those pesticides off your apples.
"There are more than 1,000 pesticides used around the world to ensure food is not damaged or destroyed by pests," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). "Each pesticide has different properties and toxicological effects."
Under the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for determining that there is a "reasonable certainty of no harm" before a pesticide can be used on food or feed in the U.S.
Still, fruits and vegetables get washed with a bleach solution before they reach the grocery store and eventually your kitchen counter. But is that enough?
"So we first found that the factory washing with Clorox bleach for like 2-8 minutes is not very effective," explained Lili He, who is an assistant professor at UMass Amherst.
He said those bleach solutions are meant "mainly to reduce bacteria pathogens and to remove organic matter. So they are not intended to wash away pesticides."
So He and her research team started testing other home-based washing methods to see what worked the best. The researchers tested a commercial bleach solution, baking soda and tap water on two different pesticides.
The team purchased organic apples and coated them with two different types of pesticides. The first pesticide, thiabendazole, can penetrate through the skin of an apple. The second, phosmet, remains mainly on the surface.
He said her team mixed a teaspoon of baking soda in two cups of water and soaked the apples.
"It took 12 and 15 minutes to completely remove thiabendazole or phosmet surface residues, respectively, following a 24 hour exposure to these pesticides," the study noted.
Overall, researchers found that the a mixture of baking soda and water was most effective in terms of removing the pesticides, although none of the washing agents were 100 percent effective.
He added that the baking soda mixture removed about 80 percent of the thiabendazole and about 95 percent of the phosmet.
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While peeling an apple still remains a more effective way of removing pesticides, He added that doing so removes key nutrients in the apple's skin.
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