This is a question I was asked in the comments yesterday when I wrote about the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide. I thought it was an important enough question to answer in a post, not just in the comments section.
Q. If you buy non-organic fruits and veggies and wash them in an all-natural organic citrus "veggie wash," will this remove the pesticides or are the pesticides inside the flesh of the food?
A. There is a variety of conflicting information to be found about removing pesticides from the skin of vegetables and fruits. The organic wash that I’ve used in the past, Chico Wash, doesn’t claim to remove any pesticides. It only claims to remove dirt and 99.999 percent of salmonella and E.coli from produce and nuts.
While I found lots of how-to advice on the Internet about removing pesticides, I didn’t find a single wash that claims to do so. I did find a study done over a decade ago by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station on the removal of trace pesticide residues from produce. The study compared non-organic produce that was either not washed at all, rinsed only in water, and washed in “FIT, Fruit & Vegetable Wash, Organiclean, Vegi-Clean, or a 1% solution of Palmolive.”
The study found there was “little or no difference between tap water rinsing or using a fruit and vegetable wash in reducing residues of the nine pesticides studied.” There was a difference between the unwashed produce and the ones that were rinsed in water or washed with a product. The unwashed produce had more pesticide residues.
So, it seems the amount of pesticides on the surface of produce can be reduced with washing. It also seems as if there is no need to spend extra money on wash products because tap water is just as effective. However, washing only removes pesticides on the surface, not pesticides that have seeped below the skin of the produce or that have been inbred in the produce from the beginning by genetically engineered (GMOs) seeds.
The only way to be sure that your produce is pesticide free is to buy organic (and hope that organic standards have truly been practiced on the farm), buy from a local farmer who you know and trust not to use pesticides, or grow it yourself.