Health & Living

Worried about pesticides? Scrub them away.

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Jul 10, 2019-

It’s likely everyone ingests pesticides when eating fruit and vegetables--but how can we ensure that we take in as little as possible? 

Almost none of our food is untouched by pesticides but there are ways to try to bring down the level that we ingest. 

Recent revelations of India pressuring Nepal’s government to pull its lengthy and inadequate pesticide testing programmes of imported fruit and vegetables coming across the Indian border, have raised concern across the country. While India is known for its rampant use of pesticides, even locally grown vegetables and fruit are not entirely safe--Nepal imported 635 tonnes last year alone. 

While pesticide use is a global phenomenon, to ensure crops flourish, the associated health implications have more recently sparked cause for concern. Not just harmful to insects, elevated ingestion of pesticides has been linked to pulmonary diseases, kidney failure, mental health problems, and cancer. Doctors also say high levels of pesticides in fruit and vegetables cause nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, dizziness and anxiety.

Eighty-five percent of those 635 tonnes of pesticides were used on vegetables last year, according to the Plant Quarantine and Pesticides Management Centre. Information Officer Ram Krishna Subedi told the Post that despite the country’s relatively low use of pesticides, compared to the rest of the world, the effects were alarming. 

“The most striking thing is that Nepal is among those countries using the least amount of pesticides, but the impact [on health] of these pesticides is among the highest in the world,” said Subedi. 

There are ways to try to get rid of pesticides from fruit and vegetables--or at least minimise the associated harm. While the WHO has said consumers can limit their intake by “peeling or washing fruit and vegetables, which also reduces other foodborne hazards, such as harmful bacteria”, there are some other ways to reduce potential harm. So, what should fruit and veg be washed with? 

Baking soda and water

In Nepal all main cash crops are subject to pesticides, and they include potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, beans, tomatoes, okra, bitter gourd, pumpkin, and cucumbers. The frequency of applying pesticides in these crops was about five applications per cropping season, according to a Health Research Council 2016 report.

A 2017 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study on homemade washing agents found a baking soda and water solution could be beneficial for fruit and vegetables. The study, performed specifically on apples, found a slurry of one percent baking soda and water was found to be more effective than either tap water or a bleach solution, and eradicated almost all pesticides from the apple’s surface. 

Cold water, salty water and several washes

India’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) recommends clean cold water, which it claims will eradicate 75-80 percent of surface residue. Followed by a wash in a two-percent salt solution, most contact pesticides should be rid from the food. While rubbing produce with the hands during washing helps, drying the food afterwards is just as important. 

The institute, however, does recommend repeat washes for foods like tomatoes, eggplant, okra, apples, grapes and mangoes. Additionally, for leafy greens, they recommend thorough washing and blanching before consumption. A University of Maine study found a 1:4 vinegar to water mixture helped clean greens, but not entirely. 

Don’t use soap or commercial washes

The University of Maine’s study recommended consumers stay away from soap or commercial food washes, finding that the store bought vegetables washes were equally effective. Detergents are not recommended either.

Blanch and peel

Cooking greens briefly in hot water or steam is an effective treatment for vegetables, but NIN still recommends a thorough wash beforehand. For other fruit and vegetables, simply peeling the surfaces should be enough to take off surface residue.


Published: 11-07-2019 07:00

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