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What is a “Safe” Amount of Pesticide Residue, Anyway?

It is most important to take steps ton reduce the traces of pesticides from your food.

Written by: Kelley Herring, Healing Gourmet

If you’re concerned about toxic residues on your produce, you’re not alone.

More and more Americans are choosing organics to help reduce their exposure to harmful substances. Pesticides, herbicides and other biocides can have a range of negative effects on adults. But these chemicals are of even greater concern for children. In fact, studies have shown that the levels of pesticide residues on some produce exceed the level deemed “safe” for kids.

Pesticides: Even a Little Can Be Harmful

But what is a “safe” amount of pesticide residue, anyway?
According to recent research, the answer may be zero. In fact, even minute exposures in the womb and during infancy and early childhood can lead to serious health issues later in life.

  • Leukemia: A study published in Therapeutic Drug Monitoring found that mothers who were exposed to pesticides at least once had a two- to seven-times greater risk of having a child diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – the most common form of childhood cancer – before the age of two.
  • ADHD: A 2010 Harvard study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children with higher levels of organophosphate pesticide metabolites in their blood were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
  • Food Allergies: Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that people with high levels of dichlorophenol (a breakdown product of an herbicide) and chlorine (found in tap water) were more likely to have allergies to milk, eggs, seafood, and peanuts. Biocides reduce healthy bacteria levels in the gut, which in turn affects the body’s immune reactions to allergens.
  • Autism: Organophosphate pesticides are neurotoxins. They work by targeting neurological systems of insects. And recent research suggests these chemicals can have similar effects on people, especially children. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children were six times more likely to be diagnosed with autism if their mothers had spent their early pregnancy in homes within 500 meters of fields with the highest levels of organophosphate application, compared to those not living near agricultural fields.

Should You Feed Your Kids More Fruits and Vegetables?

As the evidence on the harmful effects of pesticides continues to mount, many parents find themselves with unanswered (and unsettling) questions:

•    Do the health benefits of fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure?
•    Do I have to buy all organic to ensure my children are protected?
•    How can I protect my children’s health and still stay within my budget?

The good news is that there are a few simple, cost-effective steps you can take that will eliminate nearly 90% of your family’s exposure to pesticides.

Buy Organics Selectively (But Make No Exceptions)

According to The Environmental Working Group, up to 90% of our pesticide exposure comes from 12 crops. These crops are coined “The Dirty Dozen” including:

1.    Apples
2.    Celery
3.    Cherry Tomatoes
4.    Cucumbers
5.    Grapes
6.    Hot Peppers
7.    Nectarines (Imported)
8.    Peaches
9.    Potatoes
10.    Spinach
11.    Strawberries
12.    Sweet Bell Peppers

Kale/collard greens and summer squash have recently been added to the list, due to high levels of organochlorine pesticides.

When it comes to the foods listed above, you should ALWAYS buy organic. It is important to note that these foods are also the foods most commonly found in baby foods and snacks. Be sure to read labels on packaged foods and ensure that the above listed foods are “organic”.

Eliminate Residual Contaminants with Two Simple Steps

Take these easy steps to reduce the amount of pesticide residue.

For foods that are not classified as “The Dirty Dozen”, you can reduce or eliminate residues and bacteria with two easy steps.

First, remove the outside leaves or peel – the outer surface is likely to have the highest concentration of pesticide residue.

Next, use a vegetable wash and rinse thoroughly. While commercial veggie washes are widely available, you can make your own at home for pennies. It’s completely safe, nontoxic, and won’t affect the taste of your fruits or vegetables.

Here are three simple recipes to have on hand:

Homemade Fruit & Veggie Wash #1

  • 1/2 cup organic white vinegar
  • 4 tbsp. sea salt
  • 2 cups filtered water

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray directly on produce. Allow to set for a few minutes, then lightly scrub. Rinse well.

Homemade Fruit & Veggie Wash #2

  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups filtered water

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray directly on produce. Allow to set for a few minutes, then lightly scrub. Rinse well.

Homemade Fruit & Veggie Wash #3

  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. organic white vinegar
  • 1 cup filtered water

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray directly on produce, allow to set, then scrub. Rinse well.

Protecting your family starts with knowledge. Always buy organic produce when it comes to the fruits and veggies listed on the Dirty Dozen. And be sure to wash all produce well to remove any lingering contaminants. By following these two simple steps, you’ll go a long way to guarding against the harmful effects of chemicals, without breaking the bank!



Kelley Herring is the Founder and Editor of Healing Gourmet  – the leading provider of organic, sustainable recipes and meal plans for health and weight loss. Be sure to grab Healing Gourmet’s free books – Eating Clean & Saving Green: Your Guide to Organic Foods on a Budget (includes 100+ foods at the best prices) and Eat Your Way Into Shape: Flip Your Body’s Fat Blasting Switch and Melt 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks (includes a delicious 7 day meal plan!). Claim your free copies here…Claim your free copies here…


1.    Soldin OP, Nsouly-Maktabi H, Genkinger JM, Loffredo CA, Ortega-Garcia JA, Colantino D, Barr DB, Luban NL, Shad AT, Nelson D. Pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia and exposure to pesticides. Ther Drug Monit. 2009;31:495-501.
2.    Maryse F. Bouchard, David C. Bellinger, Robert O. Wright, and Marc G. Weisskopf. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides. Pediatrics, 2010; DO
3.    Eder W, Ege MJ, von Mutius E. The asthma epidemic. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:2226–2235
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5.    Roberts, EM et al. 2007. Maternal residence near agricultural pesticide applications and autism spectrum disorders among children in the California Central Valley. Environmental Health Perspectives. 115(10):1482-1489