Pesticides in our produce, a concern?


American consumers are increasingly seeking fruits and vegetables with less pesticide.

Why?  Consider that nearly two-thirds of produce samples contain pesticide residues–known toxins which can hamper human intelligence, behavior, and health.

Pesticides remain on and/or in fruits and vegetables, even when they are washed and in some cases, even when peeled.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to consistently find and afford organic food.


Apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes:  Many are loaded with pesticides.

The reality is that nearly 100 percent of apples, peaches, and nectarines contain at least one pesticide residue.

Potato has the most volume of toxin, with grapes and bell peppers harboring the largest array–as many as 15 different pesticides.

Cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries each often test positive for one or more of an array of 13 different pesticides.


Avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes contain the fewest pesticide residue, with only a couple of these testing for more than a single type of pesticide.

Actually, as many as 99% of avocados don’t show any detectable pesticide residue, making them one of the cleanest.

Pineapple, kiwi, papaya, and mango is clean 80 to 90 percent and cantaloupe is clean 60 percent of the time.

Most Toxic

Kale and collard greens contain trace levels of a most dangerous insecticide, toxic to the human nervous system.  And although hot peppers are not one of the worst for harboring pesticides, many hot peppers that are contaminated also contain this human nervous system toxin.  Many people rarely eat these three foods, but those who eat them frequently should probably consider seeking organically grown.

Genetically engineered crops

The detriment of genetically modified food is controversial and furthermore U.S. law doesn’t require labeling of GE produce or ingredients.  A valid concern is that most GMO food is grown with toxic chemicals which induce breast cancer growth.  

However, for the record, about the only fruit which is likely not to be GE is Hawaiian papaya.

Pesticides in baby food

Perhaps the good news is that since cooking tends to reduce pesticide levels and baby food is cooked prior to packaging, it tests slightly less positive than comparable raw food.

The downside is that infants are more vulnerable to damage by harmful toxins and pesticide residue has been found in applesauce, peaches and green beans.

Peaches may be the most toxic.

Applesauce has tested positive for acetamiprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide which European regulators suspect disrupts the development of the nervous system.  It also sometimes contains  a fungicide, carbendiazim.

Apple juice may harbor several pesticides, including diphenylamine, which is so bad that it was banned in Europe in 2012.

Grape juice frequently contains insecticides, most commonly carbaryl, another potent insecticide not allowed in Europe.   Many U.S. grape juices contain carbaryl.

Pesticide residue has also been detected in carrots and peas packaged as baby food.

Eating Clean

As per a February 2015 University of Washington study, people who report they “often or always” buy organic produce have significantly less organophosphate insecticides in their urine, even though they eat 70 percent more produce than average Americans.

Organophosphate insecticide impairs children’s brain development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children have unique susceptibilities to toxicity and that early pesticide exposure is linked to pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.

Hot Peppers, Kale, and Collards

Hot peppers may contain acephate, chlorpyrifos, and oxamyl, even though due to their toxicity they have been banned on other crops.  Kale and collard greens have tested positive for dozens pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, famoxadone, oxydemeton, dieldrin, DDE and esfenvalerate — each highly toxic.

Leafy greens continue to be grown with chlorpyrifos and esfenvalerate, and the organochlorine pesticide DDE and dieldrin, both banned years ago, which remain in agricultural soil and crops today.  Frequent eaters of leafy greens or hot peppers may wish to consider buying organic, or at least cook them which often diminishes pesticide levels.  A cooked salad anyone?

Many chemicals, including organophosphate pesticides, are potent neurotoxins, which even in low doses impair children’s intelligence and brain development.  Although organophosphate insecticide exposure brain and nervous system damage may be subtle, it is long lasting.  Not surprisingly, infant birth weight of mothers exposed to organophosphates during pregnancy is less.

In summary, this isn’t the final word on produce carrying pesticide residue because here in the U.S., kale, collard greens, strawberries, cherries and tomatoes haven’t been re-tested in several years.

This story is sure to continue.


AAP 2012. Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and Council on Environmental Health. e1406 -e1415. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-2579.

Bouchard M, Chevrier J, Harley K, et al. 2011. Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year Old Children. Environ Health Perspect 119(8): 1189–1195.

Curl CL, Beresford SAA, Fenske RA, et al. 2015. Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives. Advanced publication February 5, 2015. DOI: 10.1289/ehp1408197

Engel SM, Wetmur J, Chen J, et al. 2011. Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Childhood. Environ Health Perspect 119(8): 1182-1188.

European Commission. 2006. Commission Directive 2006/125/EC of 5 December 2006 on processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children. OJ L 339, 6.12.2006: 16 – 35.

Rauch SA, Braun JM, Barr DB, et al. 2012. Associations of Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticide Metabolites with Gestational Age and Birth Weight. Environ Health Perspect. 120(7): 1055–1060.

Rauh V, Arunajadai S, Horton M, et al. 2011. 7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Pesticide. Environ Health Perspect. 119(8): 1196-1201.

USDA. 2007. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2007. U.S. Department of Agriculture. December 2008.

USDA. 2008. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2008. U.S. Department of Agriculture. December 2009.

USDA. 2010. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture. May 2012.

USDA. 2011. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2011. U.S. Department of Agriculture. May 2013.

USDA. 2012. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture, May 2012.

USDA. 2014a. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2012. U.S. Department of Agriculture, February 2014.

USDA. 2014b. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2013. U.S. Department of Agriculture, December 2014.

This information is not to be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please talk to your health care provider for anything related to your health including but not limited to diagnosis, treatment advice and/or care. Always seek the advice of a health care professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or call for emergency medical help on the nearest telephone.