New Study Found “Alarming” Amounts of Pesticides in Berries (and Other Produce) — Here’s What You Need to Know

published Apr 24, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: CC Buckley

Shopping at the grocery store can be overwhelming enough given all of the options we have, especially when it comes to buying produce. Is it healthier to buy organic rather than conventionally grown produce? And if so, if you can’t afford organic produce, does that mean you’re actually eating unhealthy food, even though you’re buying a fruit or vegetable? These questions can feel challenging, especially when reports are constantly being released with data about pesticide residue on the food we eat, such as the recent data published by Consumer Reports.

After analyzing 59 different common conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, the report stated that 20% of these foods “posed significant risks” due to pesticides present. To find this data, Consumer Reports analyzed USDA test results of over 29,000 individual food samples and concluded that 12 foods were presented with “bigger concerns” based on their level of pesticides. The team of scientists at Consumer Reports set these particular standards and feel the legal limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) sets for pesticides in food is “far too high.”

This isn’t the first time an organization outside of the USDA has made a claim that pesticide levels are too high in food. The Environmental Working Group released The Dirty Dozen 2024 list where they point out 12 different fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticides. The group’s goals is to educate consumers about farming practices for their food.

Both of these organizations have concluded that choosing to eat organic is healthier for you in terms of lowering risk. However, this particular claim is far from true. The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) points to research in the Journal of Toxicology which found choosing organic produce over conventional did not result in a reduction of consumer risk because residues on conventionally grown produce was so low or not present at all.

Plus, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) pesticide program found that 99% of the foods sampled had residue levels far below the EPA safety standards, and 27% of food didn’t have any detectable residues. Keep in mind, pesticides are used in both organic and conventional produce.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

But what about our health? The Consumer Reports analysis mentions how pesticides have been suspected to potentially interfere with the body’s hormone and neurological system, and also cites other research including increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. However, a majority of the research is coming from farmers working with pesticides directly rather than through consumption of our foods, which is why pesticide use is heavily regulated by the EPA under the Worker Protection Standard, and any research regarding consumption of pesticide residue is still too minimal to make any sweeping health claims.

Plus, the number of these fruits and vegetables you would have to actually consume to cause any risks is high. For example, according to the AFF, an adult woman would have to consume 453 strawberries in one day (with the highest amount of pesticide residue on them) to cause any health risks based on EPA standards. Blueberries are also high on both lists, yet an adult male would have to consume 18,519 in a single day before experiencing any side effects.

Lastly, washing your produce helps a lot. The Food and Drug Administration suggests washing fruits and vegetables with tap water (no soaps) before consuming them to remove residues on your produce, and to also eliminate traces of anything else that could be on your food like bacteria, and yes, even insects. After all, our produce is grown in the dirt.

Basically, buy the produce you want. Just be sure to give it a rinse before eating!