In a perfect world, we’d all have the food budget to meal plan only organic foods, have someone else cook them for us (kidding- sort of), and use the time to relax in a nice detox bath.
Since reality is often not very close to perfection, (and I’m yet to find a way to have an organic on-demand chef so I have time to take relaxing baths, or a dryer that automatically folds clothes), compromise is often necessary.
If fully organic isn’t in your budget, you can eliminate much of the pesticides from your foods by prioritizing certain organic foods.
Prioritizing Organic Foods
For our family, buying organic, grass-fed and pasture raised meats is a first priority, since conventional meats are often much higher in pesticides, antibiotics and unhealthy fats (and lower in Omega-3s and CLA). For produce, we prioritize buying the “Dirty Dozen” organic and don’t sweat the “Clean 15” when budget is tight.
The Environmental Working Group has named these as the most recent list of Dirty Dozen and Clean 15:
Organic or not, if I didn’t grow the produce myself or get it from family friends who are trusted farmers, I always make sure to carefully wash all produce that we eat. This is especially important with non-organic produce, but I even wash organic store-bought produce as well.
Store-Bough Produce Wash?
The University of Maine studied the most popular store bought fruit and vegetable wash brands and found that not only did many of them contain chlorine (to kill bacteria on the produce), but in lab testing, they were no more effective than using distilled water.
Unfortunately, neither commercial washes or distilled vinegar completely removed waxes, pesticides, and other residue from produce.
Homemade fruit and vegetable washes are effective at removing residue from produce and also help preserve the fridge-life of these foods since bacteria that may cause decay is removed.
To be most effective, different vegetables call for different methods of washing, but three simple and inexpensive recipes will clean virtually every type of produce.
How to Wash Most Fruits & Vegetables
The simplest and least expensive natural produce cleaner is plain white vinegar. For most produce with a skin, this is all I use. I’ll place the fruits and veggies in a freshly cleaned kitchen sink (or a large bowl), fill with water, and add 1 cup of white vinegar.
I let soak for up to an hour, scrub gently and rinse.
To prevent decay, I let dry fully before returning to the fridge.
How to Wash Lettuces & Greens
Lettuces and greens are more delicate and more difficult to wash. They also are more likely to contain insects or other little visitors.
For greens, I dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt in 2 cups of water and add the juice of one lemon. I spray this on the greens, let sit for about a minute, and then add them to a sink of diluted vinegar water. I soak for about 15 minutes, rinse in cool water and dry completely (a salad spinner helps), before putting in the fridge.
I like to store greens in mason jars with lids to keep them fresh longer.
How to Wash Berries
Berries are perhaps the most difficult to clean because they are so delicate and take on the flavor of anything they come in contact with (vinegar flavored blueberries anyone?).
I use diluted fresh lemon juice to clean berries. I mix 2 cups of water with 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice and spray on the berries. I make sure the berries are well coated and then soak in fresh water for about 15 minutes. Dry completely before storing in the fridge!
Other Produce Tips:
Produce Sticker Numbers:
You know those annoying little stickers that you have to pull off of your fruit before you can eat it? Those stickers can also be an easy way to tell how your produce was grown. Each fruit has a four of five digit Price Look-up (or PLU) code that is given based on how it was grown. Produce that is conventionally grown has a four-digit PLU code and generally begins with a three or four. Organically grown produce has a five-digit code and begins with a nine. Genetically modified produce has a five digit code as well, but the first number is an eight.
For example, the PLU for a conventionally grown banana would be 4011; an organic banana is coded 94011; and a genetically modified banana is 84011.
Most produce is clearly labeled as organic or conventional these days, but this tip can help you verify how your food was grown.
Do you buy all organic produce or do you get some conventional produce?
Discussion (26 Comments)
Have you checked out what white/distilled vinegar is made out of? Corn. Hmmm. Is that good being that it is considered GMO?
Is distilled white vinegar the same as white vinegar?
Please say what brand vinegar and what kind of salt. Advice given is great however information about this is just as important. Why bother if the salt and vinegar are toxic. Those new to making their lives cleaner don’t know these things. Took me long time to go from organic foods to finding non toxic everything else that touches your food. Research is not easy.
Thank you, Jeanne
Another food blogger I trust suggested 1 T of 3% hydrogen peroxide to 1 gallon of water solution kills e.coli and keeps produce fresh longer. I’ve been using this method for the past year or so. It’s inexpensive, easy, and I can do large amounts of produce at once in a large enamel pot. I still rinse berries only as I’m ready to use.
I’ve been using a mixture of water and ACV w/mother to clean my fruit & veggies. And those not organic I let sit for 20 minutes or so before rinsing.
Is this good enough?
If using branch basics as a fruit/veggie wash, how long should the spray sit on the item? Mine is diluted for countertop spray with lemon EO in it. Thanks!!
Katie - Wellness Mama
I just leave on for about 30 seconds.
Eggplant can be GMO, so I would not encourage buying conventional. I have also heard that avocado is often treated with systemic fungicides, so peeling would not be a protection against ingesting them.
Last semester I took a class on organic food production and the verdict was to never buy conventional sweet corn, cantaloupe, and papaya. I love EWG sight but they may need some updates.. Thanks for the great food washing ideas!
Interesting! I would have thought cantaloupe ok once washed and rind removed. 🙁
It’s not ok because it’s most likely GMO just like corn and papaya unless organic.
No mention of whether to buy artichokes organic…???
Not sure why corn would be on the clean list unless it is organic it is going to be GMO
I totally agree- I never will buy corn unless organic- it is the one vegetable loaded with GMO’s- farmers that grow it won’t even eat it!
I grow non-gmo conventional sweet corn. There are varieties, and we do eat it, my entire family does. I’d much rather have sweet corn with a BT trait (GMO) because then we don’t have to spray it as much, as the corn has an internal resistance to corn borer. If you’ve ever seen a pest decimate a crop like the corn borer can, it’d be easy to see why. GMO sweet corn isn’t as popular as you’d think, I wish I could get it, but we get it for free and don’t want to waste the non-gmo. GMO field corn, or dent corn, which is fed as animal feed, ground for cornmeal and has other uses, is more associated with GMO traits. The best GMO corn schtick: GMO Popcorn… there is no commercially available varieties, but in order to pander to the fear of the consumer, it is regularly labeled non-gmo.
Doesn’t matter if your corn is organic or not. GM corn can be labeled organic by USDA and other guidelines. Look for corn that says NON-GMO.
Tracy McCollum DiCarlo
Thank you for sharing this! I had noticed that when I go through the self-checkout at my supermarket that my organic fruits & veggies have a longer PLU number for me to type in, but I’m glad to know now that I should avoid one beginning with 8!