Dirty dozen

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(HOST) Commentator Charlie Nardozzi’s getting excited about the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables. There are some things, though, that he feels we should be cautious of before we eat. Here’s Charlie.

(NARDOZZI) Summertime is great for veggie and fruit lovers like me. There is an abundance of locally grown produce to keep me fat and happy from May to October. Growing your own veggies and fruits, or buying them locally, is the best way to guarantee the quality of the food I eat and serve my family. It’s my version of Homeland Security.

While it’s obvious that eating locally grown produce is best for the local economy and tastes better due to it’s freshness, there is another compelling reason. Much of the produce we consume, even in the summer, comes from outside our region and country. Despite the best efforts at regulation, some of this produce is tainted with pesticide residue that may be harmful to your health. Even after washing or peeling fruits and vegetables, these pesticides may still be present. Growing your own produce or buying certified organic produce is definitely a solution. However, if that’s not an option due to time and land constraints, lack of availability, or cost, avoiding the veggies and fruits most likely to be contaminated is the next best option.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization promoting public health through the reduction of environmental pollution, has done some research that can help. They’ve ranked various fruits and vegetables based on 100,000 pesticide tests conducted by the USDA and the FDA from 1992 to 2002.

They’ve deemed the produce most likely to have pesticide residues as the “Dirty Dozen”. At the top of the dirty dozen list is three cherished fruits: nectarines, peaches and pears. The top vegetables on the list are spinach, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers. Rounding out the dirty dozen are apples, cherries, imported grapes, red raspberries, and strawberries.

On the positive side, here are the “Clean Dozen”: those vegetables and fruits least likely to have pesticide residues. The researchers estimate we can lower our pesticide exposure up to ninety percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated ones instead. Peas and broccoli head the list of cleanest vegetables. Other vegetables include asparagus, avocado, cauliflower, onions and sweet corn. The cleanest fruits are all tropical in origin: banana, kiwi, mango, pineapples and papaya.

So what’s a consumer to do? Well, here’s what I do. My first order of preference is to grow my own. Nothing tastes better than fresh berries grown in good old Vermont soil. If I can’t do that, I buy locally raised produce. At least I know the people who raised it. If that’s not an option, I buy organic produce from out of state. If organic produce is too expensive or not available, I avoid the produce most likely to have pesticide residues and eat more of those on the “clean” list.

Knowing where my food comes from and how safe it is makes me feel a little more secure about what I’m serving my friends and family.

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