05.Can you wash off pesticide residues?
Pesticides are often formulated to resist being washed off easily in
order to survive rain. Peeling removes residues, but the peel itself
also contains valuable nutrients.
Some pesticides are systemic, which means they penetrate the flesh of
the fruit or vegetable.
So washing isn’t totally effective in these cases, though
it’s a good idea to wash them anyway to remove dirt and potentially harmful
bacteria. It also helps to throw away the outer leaves of leafy veggies such as
lettuce or cabbage.
Who monitors the pesticides in your food?
While state and territory governments police the maximum residue levels (MRLs), which are the maximum levels of pesticide residues legally allowed on for fruits and veggies, there are no mandatory testing requirements and the system has been described as complicated and uncoordinated. In response, the fruit and veg industry has set up a variety of tests to monitor microbial and chemical residues in their products.
“There is probably a higher risk associated with foods imported from some developing countries where lack of farmer education may mean less stringent pesticide practices,” says Dr Christopher Preston, associate professor, School of Agriculture, Food & Wine at The University of Adelaide. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) tests five per cent of imported fruit and vegetables for compliance with MRLs.
The FreshTest program run by wholesale markets (which supply greengrocers) takes about 5000 samples annually from around the country. Testing for more than 100 chemicals, it reports a 95% MRL compliance rate.
• Coles tests a random selection of fresh produce each month for 129 chemicals, including domestic, organic and imported produce, and says it has a failure rate of zero per cent.
• Aldi outsources monthly testing, and produce suppliers are required to carry out a program of pesticide residue analysis by an independent lab.
• Woolworths declined to comment.
Peak body Organic Federation of Australia says it tests five per cent of certified organic produce in the marketplace, with a 99.9% compliance rate. Australian Certified Organic randomly tests domestic and imported organic products. It has conducted 100 tests in the past six months, screening for 50 chemicals with a reported 99% free of any chemicals and one per cent with pesticide residues with levels that are legal for conventional food.