You can probably think of a few good reasons why you wash your fruits and vegetables before indulging. Getting dirt and sand washed off can make the eating experience a little more enjoyable. You may want to reduce the likelihood of getting sick by washing off the germs you can’t see. Like, for instance, the ones that were left behind on the produce by someone who didn’t wash their hands after taking a bathroom break or wiping their snotty nose. You also probably want to rinse off all of the delicious pesticides and herbicides sprayed on that food which help the farmer yield a bigger crop at the small expense of being linked with a number of chronic illnesses, including cancer. While running your produce under the kitchen sink will help a little bit, recent research shows there’s a significantly more effective method you can use with something that most likely is already in your kitchen pantry.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts recently published their study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry looking at several different methods of cleaning apples and the effectiveness of removing pesticide residues. The researchers started with organic Gala apples and sprayed them with two different pesticides and let them sit for 24 hours. They divided the apples into three groups and compared three different cleaning liquids’ ability to remove these pesticide residues. The three cleaning liquids were tap water, a 1 percent baking soda/water solution and a commonly used commercial bleach solution approved by the EPA. The winning solution was the baking soda solution, removing 80 percent of one of the pesticides and 96 percent of the other pesticide after soaking for 15 minutes. The water and bleach solutions were much less effective at removing these residues. While this study has some limitations, such as only measuring pesticides sprayed on the surface of the fruit versus pesticides taken up by the plant’s roots and accumulated internally, this is a simple, cost-effective method to reduce your exposure to health-damaging chemicals.

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

Depending on where you live, you may have limited access to organic produce. It is beneficial to keep in mind that not all conventional produce is treated with the same amount of chemicals. Each year the Environmental Working Group assembles its lists of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen based on the amount of pesticides measured in conventional produce.

The 2017 Dirty Dozen are:

  • Strawberries

  • Spinach

  • Nectarines

  • Apples

  • Peaches

  • Pears

  • Cherries

  • Grapes

  • Celery

  • Tomatoes

  • Bell Peppers

  • Potatoes

The 2017 Clean Fifteen are:

  • Sweet Corn*

  • Avocados

  • Pineapple

  • Cabbage

  • Onions

  • Sweet Peas (frozen)

  • Papayas*

  • Asparagus

  • Mango

  • Eggplant

  • Honeydew

  • Kiwi

  • Cantaloupe

  • Cauliflower

  • Grapefruit

*Some of the seeds to produce sweet corn and papaya are genetically modified. If you want to avoid GMO foods, buy organic varieties of these.

With this information, when buying produce in the Dirty Dozen list, it is best to spend the extra money on organic varieties to reduce exposure to pesticides. Even if certain pesticides are reported not to affect human cells, it is important to note that the majority (80 percent) of pesticides have antibiotic activity. These pesticides in turn destroy the healthy bacteria found in your digestive tract making you more susceptible to digestive problems, weakened immune system function and other chronic health challenges.