You’ve probably heard that you should wash your fruits and veggies before chowing down, in order to remove dirt and pesticides. It’s generally recommended to stay away from soap, detergent or commercial produce wash, and instead to rub, scrub or rinse your produce using plain water. However, a new study from researchers at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, indicates that another method may actually be more effective: soaking produce in a solution of baking soda and water.
The study was conducted on apples, in particular organic Gala apples. The apples were treated with two pesticides commonly used on them, one of which is designed to penetrate the fruit. Next, researchers washed different groups of apples in a bleach solution that is commonly used to clean apples before they’re sold to consumers. However, this solution is only meant to remove dirt and kill harmful microbes, not pesticides, which is why it is still recommended to wash apples after purchasing and before eating them. They also washed the apples with a baking soda and water solution, as well as plain water.
The baking soda solution emerged as the winner, removing more pesticides after a two-minute soak than either the bleach solution or plain water. However, to completely rid the apples of pesticides, it took a solid 12-15 minutes in the baking soda solution.
Study author Lili He, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, acknowledges that the study is not completely conclusive because it only looked at two specific pesticides, while dozens may be used in apple production. “The effect of washing is not going to be consistent across all pesticides and probably not across all fruit and vegetable items,” Cynthia Curl, Ph.D., assistant professor of community and environmental health at Boise State University, who wasn’t involved with the study, told Consumer Reports.
In the meantime, it is still recommended to—at the very least—wash your produce with plain water. Buying produce that is labeled USDA Organic will also reduce your exposure to pesticides, because these crops are grown free from the use of synthetic pesticides. Some conventionally-grown produce have higher levels of pesticides than others, and Consumer Reports has created this guide to help shoppers determine the pesticide risk in different types of produce.
[h/t: Consumer Reports]