Think Washing Your Apple Gets It Clean? Think Again

apples covered with pesticides in a bowl
The secret to properly clean your apples might be baking soda. (Image: @andreeas via Twenty20)

An apple a day keeps the doctor away — unless, of course, you’ve been washing them incorrectly this whole time. Yep, a new study from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst suggests simply rinsing apples with water might not be enough to get rid of the synthetic insecticides sprayed on most conventional varieties — and these lingering pesticides can potentially have harmful effects on your health.

Before being distributed for sale, apples undergo a two-minute bleach-solution dip and rinse as required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But, according to researcher Lili He, while that bleaching process cleans off bacteria and dirt, it still leaves behind the pesticides. Yikes!

In an effort to reduce the pesticides on apples and potentially make them healthier for consumption, He and her team sprayed Gala apples with the fungicide thiabendazole and the insecticide phosmet — both chemicals that are EPA-approved for use on apples. They then tested three different washing methods for two and eight minutes, respectively: plain water; a bleach solution usually used in the U.S. fruit industry; and a solution of water and 1 percent baking soda. According to the results, the baking soda solution was the most effective way to clean off pesticide residue. Plain water came in as the second most effective way to reduce the chemicals.

“One thing that surprised us was how long it took to wash the pesticides away,” He told Consumer Reports. In fact, even though the baking soda method was most effective, it took 12 to 15 minutes in the solution to completely get rid of the pesticides. And there’s another caveat: No matter the cleaning method, small amounts of pesticide are still likely to seep through the apple skin and into the flesh.

According to a study by LIVESTRONG.COM, which looked at the 40 foods Americans eat most often by tracking four years of data from millions of MyPlate app users, apples come in as the fourth most popular food — with Gala, Fujis and Granny Smiths as fan favorites. As apples are part of the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ for produce grown with the highest concentration of pesticides, we strongly recommend that you purchase ones labeled USDA Organic.

Otherwise, consider washing your apples in a mixture of one teaspoon of baking soda for every two cups of water to minimize your exposure.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you purchase organic produce? What are some of the measurements you take to avoid pesticide exposure? Would you ever start washing your produce in baking soda? Let us know in the comments section below.

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