Precautions to take when consuming fruits & vegetables

10/11/2016 09:23

A healthy diet begins with lots of fruits and vegetables but they may also contain shocking amounts of harmful pesticides. Some farmers opt to spray synthetic pesticides on crops to kill weeds and insects. This leaves the pesticide residues on the fruits and vegetables sprayed by the farmers. The toxic residues then linger on fruit and vegetable skins all the way to your kitchen.

So the question is what precautions should we take when buying and consuming your favourite fruits and greens?

We obviously want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from hazardous chemicals. While the best choice would be spending our money on ‘organic food’ because it is better for your health, the environment, and the farmers, it may not be all that easy to find them in our local market. Needless to say the price of the organic food is exorbitant and it becomes difficult for an ordinary consumer to purchase such preferred food.

Unfortunately, we don’t have fruits, vegetables coming with proper labels indicating that they are ‘organic’, unlike it is done in supermarkets, abroad. In the absence of any such disclosure from the traders/market vendors, consumers end up buying fruits and vegetables which may look all healthy and green but may be carrying high residues of pesticides and other harmful fertilizers.

Take for instance, Chinese cabbage. One bundle may look green and super- healthy while the other one is reasonably green but has little holes on the leaves, eaten by insects. So, which one will you pick? 

Obviously – the bundle which is consumed by the insects. Reason being that if it is safe for the insects to consume then it would be safe for us as well.  The bundles eaten by the insects and pests would be safer to consume. BUT, many consumers may opt for the green-looking bundle with no insect bites as they look all good to the eyes. This is due to the synthetic pesticides being used to grow them.

Consumers, however, can always take precautions and minimise their pesticide intake when organic options are not available. Here are some tips:

  • Opt for home-grown fruits and vegetables or from farmers known to you who are engaged in subsistence farming (usually, animal manure, compost and food scraps from your kitchen are used in your backyard gardens).
  • Before consuming fruits/vegetables, wash them thoroughly under running water. Make sure you wash for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and gently rub the produce to dislodge the residues. Washing eliminates more than just pesticide residues. It also removes dirt and potentially harmful micro-organisms that might contaminate the produce.
  • Produce with firm edible skin can be scrubbed with a clean brush. Wash produce brushes regularly with hot soapy water.  And consider not peeling, since nutrients are in the peel too.
  • Remove the outer leaves of heads of lettuce or cabbages, because the outer leaves are likely to have higher levels of pesticide residues.

You can help reduce the amount of pesticides you consume by asking the farmer or market vendor whether they engage in good agricultural practices. And how long after applying the pesticides did they harvest the produce? Let them know that you are aware of the impacts of pesticides on your food.

A joint effort is required to keep our fruits and vegetables healthy and less contaminated. The farmers should use pesticides in a restraint and reasonable manner. There are alternatives to using pesticides. These are generally known as sustainable agriculture or alternative agriculture. There are several practices, some very old, that can reduce the need for, or substantially reduce, the amount or type of pesticides that farmers may use. Alternative methods have been practiced for some time which, include crop rotation; reduced use of broad spectrum pesticides; use of bio pesticide; use of recommended selective pesticides; engaging in organic farming and implementing integrated pest management (IPM) strategies such as: cultural, mechanical, physical, biological and chemical but as a last resort.

Health is wealth, hence, all stakeholders – farmers, market vendors and consumers must do their part in keeping the food we consume safe and pesticide free.