How clean is your kale?

March 27, 2019 7:25 am Published by Leave your thoughts

And your cauliflower? And your cabbage and cantaloupe melons? Using data from the US Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Working Group in the US has just issued a list of the ‘dirtiest’ fruit and vegetables – and when they say ‘dirty’, they’re not talking about soil and mud.

How clean is your kale - and your cauliflower and cabbage?

Rather, it’s pesticides they’re concerned about. The fruit and vegetables on their ‘dirty dozen’ list are those that, according to their analysis, are the most contaminated by pesticide residue. Strawberries top the dirty bill, followed by spinach and kale. There’s then a run of favourite fruits (nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries and pears), with the final three dirty places going to those store-cupboard staples tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

It doesn’t look good. The researchers found that some samples of vegetables had residues from 18 different pesticides. Concentrating on leafy greens, they discovered that over 90% of conventionally grown kale registered at least 2 different pesticide residues.

Well, you might think, why didn’t they wash the fruit and veg before testing, as you would at home? They did. They also peeled it – which makes the results even more worrying.

The researchers concluded that almost 70% of fresh fruit and veg sold in the US had pesticide residues. They emphasized that no-one should stop eating fruit and veg, as the health benefits of doing so still outweighed the risks of exposure to pesticides, but they did raise concerns.

They also suggested an alternative: choosing an organic option. Here in the UK, the Soil Association, the body licensing and promoting organic produce, agrees wholeheartedly. And of course, we do too!

Eat organic to avoid artificial pesticides

We’re organic specialists and enthusiasts at Naturally Good Food (see our full Organic range here). One of the things we like best about this kind of farming is that it doesn’t use artificial chemical pesticides. Pests are instead kept in check by purely natural means. As a result, crops grown organically don’t have chemical residues on them: you can eat them perfectly happily and safely straight from the ground.

If a farmer doesn’t use artificial pesticides on his or her crops, they can’t leach into the soil or rivers, which is good news for the whole food chain. The health of the soil and the wildlife of the farm is protected: conventional pesticides don’t discriminate – they kill everything in their path, including organisms that are a crucial part of the natural environment. There’s 50% more wildlife (insects, birds and animals) on organic farms – quite simply, because they’re not being poisoned.

How do organic farmers manage without pesticides?

Organic farmers manage their crops without the use of artificial pesticides in a number of ways. Some of these are very broad, relating to general farm management – others are highly targeted and specific.

Firstly, organic farmers embrace the presence of wildlife on their farms. They know that they need worms in their soil to aerate it, bees around their crops to pollinate others, and microscopic life-forms to work the soil and release its nutrients. They know that they need a natural farm, with hedgerows, trees and wild areas along the edges of fields, to provide habitats for predators. And they know that strong, fertile soil reduces a crop’s vulnerability to pests in the first place.

Organic farmers make the habitat of the crop field less hospitable to the pest. They might choose to grow crops in ‘mixed’ rather than ‘mono’ cultures, dividing up their crops, rather than growing just one variety in one place. A pest that has a particular liking for one crop may gain a toe-hold in one area, but it can’t then spread easily to the next area.

Organic farmers may also grow subsidiary crops deliberately to attract pests – drawing them away from the more important crops. They’ll almost always rotate crops too, preventing pests from getting too used to a particular crop and gaining dominance, and will keep certain areas fallow during the rotation, for the same reason. It’s also possible to choose crops that have developed a natural resistance to certain pests.

More specifically, farmers look closely at the pests they’re dealing with. They can control them by introducing natural predators or parasites, such as ladybirds or predatory mites. They might also ‘trap’ pests naturally, by attracting them into an area sprayed with a natural pheromone that’s especially appealing to them.

Organic farmers are allowed to use purely natural pesticides, if necessary. These will be based on plant extracts (such as garlic) or bacteria, or may be made up of ingredients such as animal urine.

Pesticides aren’t just all about insects, of course – they’re also used on conventional farms against weeds. Organic farms employ the methods outlined above against weeds as well as insects, and can of course also pull them up by hand or plough them up shallowly.

We firmly believe that healthy soil and healthy crops make for healthy products. We’re proud of our organic products – for their taste and their general cleanliness. We want to get as many people eating and buying them as we can!

Cleanest fruit and veg?

What were the cleanest fruits and vegetables in the study? Well, you might be relieved to know that avocados topped that list, followed by sweetcorn, pineapple, frozen peas and onions. Moving down, you’ll find papaya, aubergine, asparagus and kiwi, followed by cabbage, cauliflower and cantaloupe melons. Broccoli and mushrooms are also pretty clean, the researchers say.

There are many reasons why one fruit or vegetable might be ‘cleaner’ than another, even if grown entirely conventionally. Some crops are naturally more resistant to pests (or have been engineered to become so), so require fewer pesticides anyway. For others, it’s all to do with how thick or porous their outer skin is, or how much of a pesticide a particular plant absorbs – and in what way – as it grows. Pesticide practices vary across individual farms too, and across different climate zones.

Keep clean

Whether you’re buying organic or conventional fruit and veg, there’s one last thing you might like to consider: how you wash the produce you take home. May we suggest Veggi-Wash? This is a product specifically designed for cleaning fruit and vegetables, to remove chemical residues, grime and microbes. Its ingredients are all derived from vegetables themselves and it has an entirely neutral taste. To use, you simply add a capful to a certain amount of cold water, then wash or soak for as little as one minute. The ingredients loosen the residues, emulsify and hold them in suspension so that they can be rinsed away. You can then eat, or store, the produce just as normal.

We like our fruit and veg clean at Naturally Good Food – and we know that our customers do too. We’ve got organic dried fruit, nuts and seeds, pulses and grains, and a range of organic tinned and dried vegetables. It’s easy to eat clean with us – simply click here to see our full organic range!

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This post was written by Yzanne

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