According to the FDA, approximately 35 percent of our food contains detectable amounts of pesticides. The CDC reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. Ideally, we’d like to eliminate all pesticide residues from our foods, but that’s just not possible.

The good news is there are effective ways to minimize our exposure. Most supermarkets are filled with organic produce, but they’re usually more expensive. Here’s a reasonable compromise. Why not purchase organic versions of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables?

The Environmental Working Group compiles an annual list of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues, the so-called “Dirty Dozen.” Some of the most contaminated foods include strawberries, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Forty-seven percent of these foods contain heavy residues of 10 or more different pesticides. Although not on the list, collard greens and summer squash are also commonly contaminated with high leveIs of pesticides. A conventionally grown apple may be sprayed more than a dozen times with more than 30 different chemicals. If your budget allows, consider making these your organic choices. Don’t blow your budget on items from the “Clean 15.” These include avocado, sweet corn, cabbage and asparagus among others. Fewer than 1 percent of these choices showed any traces of pesticides at all. Even fewer tested positive for more than one.   

One way to know exactly what is in and on your food is to grow it yourself. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of starting your own vegetable garden. You don’t need a lot of room to grow vegetables. Rachel and I grow 90 percent of our fruits and vegetables in containers. Start small. Don’t feel pressured into going 100 percent organic. Organic gardening can be more labor intensive and time consuming than traditional methods.

Expand your organic skills over time. Pick and choose what works best for you. Fresh fruits and vegetables grown in your own garden are worth the extra effort.      

Not all pesticides are synthetic. There are naturally occurring substances that the USDA allows to be used in organic practices. They’re generally less toxic than synthetic ones. We use neem oil and insecticidal soap on our apple tree, green beans and strawberries. We try not to spray any of our food crops, but some of our losses would be unacceptable.   

It’s the job of the EPA to ensure that the pesticides used on our foods are safe. The benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables far outweigh any risks of eating anything grown traditionally. However, if you want to decrease your exposure to pesticides and minimize environmental harm, choose organic foods as they’re in season.

Rinsing can remove dirt, residue and bacteria from the surfaces of fruits and vegetables. Place them in a colander and use cold running water. Save your money. Fancy veggie or fruit washes are no more effective than tap water. Pesticide residue can be trapped under the protective wax coating. Think about removing the skin. If you’re really determined to limit your exposure to pesticides, trim the fat from meats and remove the skin from fish and poultry. This is where pesticide residue from animal feed concentrates.   

Agriculture as we know it would not be possible without pesticides. All pesticides come with some amount of risk. We can minimize our risk by shopping wisely and growing some of our own food.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at