Buying organic, in-season produce from your local market is the best assurance of pesticide-free produce. To identify fruit grown organically, look at the little sticker – the number should be five digits and start with “9” (e.g. 94223). If you are on a limited budget, look for organic choices for the produce your family eats the most. National surveys have also shown that fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets contain less pesticides even if they’re not organic.
Commercial vegetable and fruit washes are available which are formulated to remove chemical residue from produce. Examples are Environné and Vitanet, available online or at your local health food stores and some supermarkets. You can also make your own produce wash using a very diluted solution of mild dish-washing detergent (1 tsp detergent per gallon, or 4 liters, water).
For grapes, strawberries, green beans, and leafy vegetables, swirl the foods in a dilute solution of dish detergent and water at room temperature for 5 to 10 seconds, then rinse with slightly warm water. For other fruits and vegetables, use a soft brush to scrub the food with the solution for about 5 to 10 seconds, then rinse with slightly warm water.
Much of the health risks associated with pesticide residues on produce are concentrated in a relatively small number of fruits and vegetables. By knowing which fruits and vegetables pose the highest risks, you can take adequate precaution, such as washing the food more carefully, peeling the skin on some fruit, or avoiding commercial sources. To learn which foods have higher pesticide residues, see our page Pesticides and Produce.
A backyard garden plot, as small as 400 square feet, can provide much of the required produce for a family of four. Organic methods can replace the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and tending the garden is a healthy activity for children. Planting perennial crops like asparagus, blueberries and strawberries will provide crops for years with very little work. Even homegrown produce should be washed before eating, however, since pesticides are sprayed aerially in some regions of the country, and other wind-blown contaminants may reach your garden.
Using chemical-based commercial insect pest control treatments may introduce chemicals to your home which pose more of a threat than the insects they are designed to kill. There are effective, non-toxic methods for controlling insect problems in the home such as diatomaceous earth, which will kill a broad range of common indoor insects without posing any hazard to your family or pets.
In the garden, growing healthy plants using organic methods is the best pest deterrent, and there are a variety of natural pest control methods such as beneficial insects, non-toxic remedies, traps and barriers.
When visitors to your home walk across a lawn that has been treated with chemical fertilizers and herbicides, residue from these chemicals may be tracked into your home. In some instances, these residues may last for years in carpeting and on floor surfaces. The simple practice of leaving shoes at the door will minimize this risk and reduce your home cleaning chores. You can provide inexpensive house slippers for guests who are unused to going shoeless indoors.