Post-harvest Removal of Pesticide Residues on Produce
It’s no secret that pesticides are used in agricultural practices such as fruit and vegetable production, to protect crops and humans from disease. Agrochemicals are an important part of our global food system but their use could also present human health and environmental downsides. Governmental environment groups commonly set tolerance limits to limit exposure and risk but the risk is never zero. That is why we see large markets that cater to individuals seeking commodities that do use synthetic pesticides in their production. However, many of these commodities are more expensive and not plentiful enough.
So, how do we further reduce our risk of contact with agrochemicals on fruits and vegetables? A common way is to search for produce that was washed after harvesting or simply wash the fruits and vegetables. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a produce wash that claims to remove pesticides. But there is good scientific evidence that washing with tap water or a produce wash does aid in the removal of pesticides. For instance, a study that investigated removal of 10 common pesticides found that tap water alone removed 10 to 40% of pesticides spiked on the produce surface, whereas other washes that contain detergents were able to remove 40 to 90% of the spiked pesticides . Other studies found that produce washes with oxidizing power, such as chlorine, do better than tap water alone when attempting to remove agrochemicals like fungicides and insecticides [2, 3].
Having said that, it is important to realize that washing fruits and vegetables is nuanced. We are not always worried about pesticides. Additionally, practices differ between “at-home” versus an industrial use. Please see our other article on To Wash or Not? The Perennial Produce Question to find out if washing produce is right for you.
This content is developed in celebration of world food safety day 2022 as Diversey cares about food safety, implementing best sanitation practices and food consumers like you.
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1) Wu, Y., An, Q., Li, D., Wu, J., & Pan, C. (2019). Comparison of Different Home/Commercial Washing Strategies for Ten Typical Pesticide Residue Removal Effects in Kumquat, Spinach and Cucumber. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(3), 472. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16030472
2) Ong, K. C., Cash, J. N., Zabik, M. J., Siddiq, M., & Jones, A. L. (1996). Chlorine and ozone washes for pesticide removal from apples and processed apple sauce. Food chemistry, 55(2), 153-160.
3) Chen, Q., Wang, Y., Chen, F., Zhang, Y., & Liao, X. (2014). Chlorine dioxide treatment for the removal of pesticide residues on fresh lettuce and in aqueous solution. Food control, 40, 106-112.