How to Minimize Pesticide Residues in Food?
On the one hand, pesticides play an important role in making sure there is enough food for everyone, by protecting food and crops from pests (insects, weeds and fungal diseases). On the other hand, the concern about pesticide residues on the food we eat is real and with some basis in facts. What can we do at our homes to make our food safe?
Excessive pesticide residues in food may arise from the trade not observing good agricultural practice – for example, the use of excessive pesticide and not allowing sufficient time for pesticide to decompose before harvesting. Pesticides ‘break down’ over time, which means very little residue should be left by the time we eat the food if due procedure is observed.
Why would pesticide residues appear in food?
Pesticide residues may be present in food because of the following reasons:
- direct use of pesticides on food crops;
- animal feeding on pesticide-treated feed; or
- environmental contamination
Will my health be affected if I consume food containing excessive pesticide residues?
The adverse effects of pesticide residues depend on the nature of the pesticide, as well as the amount and duration of exposure. Eating food with excessive pesticide residues may cause acute and/or chronic adverse health effects. Symptoms of acute poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, dizziness and numbness. In severe cases, people may even have difficulties in breathing, blurred vision and convulsion. Prolonged excessive intakes of pesticide residues have been shown to cause damage to the nervous system and other organs such as liver and kidneys. Young children may be at greatest risk because their brains and nervous systems are developing and don’t have the defences that adults do.
How to minimize pesticide residues in food?
Trim the fat from meat and poultry because residues of some pesticides concentrate on fat. Remove the skin from fish.
Discard the outer layer of leafy vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, etc., before washing. Peel fruits and vegetables where possible.
Scrub melons, carrots, potato, turnips, etc., with a soft brush or a cloth towel for 5 to 10 seconds and rinse with slightly warm water.
Wash in clean running, preferably drinking, water.
Vegetables and some fruits that are consumed along with peel should be soaked in water for ½ hour to 1 hour and rinsed thoroughly before use. Thorough washing can reduce (not eliminate) pesticide residues.
Cook or bake foods to reduce residues of some pesticides even further.
Eat a variety of foods to avoid excessive consumption of same type of pesticide.
To reduce pesticide residues in food, ready-touse branded solutions are available in the market which may be used.
Soak fruits and vegetables for 5 to 10 minutes in diluted vinegar, followed by thorough rinsing.
Wash vegetables like cauliflower, spinach, broccoli and cabbage with hot water containing two per cent common salt.
Wash vegetables like carrot and brinjal with one per cent tamarind solution.
Dipping in ozonated water helps in reduction of pesticide residues.
For particularly waxy fruits and vegetables, spray a mixture of 1 cup water, ½ cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon baking soda and a dash of grapefruit seed extract, and leave for an hour before rinsing.
Prepare any one of the following solutions and spray on fruit and vegetables, leave for 5 to 10 minutes, and then wash well with fresh water.
i) 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoon baking soda, 1 cup of water
ii) 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoon white vinegar, 1 cup of water
iii) ¼ cup vinegar, 2 tablespoon salt
Alternately, soak fruits and vegetables for 30 minutes in a large bowl of water and use any one of the above solutions. Then wash in fresh water.
Despite the potential health risks of pesticide residues, the health advantages of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables are likely to be far greater. So load up on fruits and vegetables to protect your health. At the same time, minimize your exposure to unwanted pesticides by taking some simple steps.