We all know small amounts of bacteria in food won’t affect us; our immune systems can fight off minor infections. But this isn’t the only reason for concern. Vegetables and fruits on the shelves in the supermarket and produce labelled ‘organic’ are showing high levels of pesticides and pollutants. Are we helping ourselves by removing the skins or washing?

Elderly, very young children, and pregnant women are at greater risk. But is washing, scraping and peeling enough? Pesticides can stick to soft skins and the industry’s introduction of wax coating to preserve freshness and quality traps pesticide residues. This, combined with many root plants absorbing toxins through their root systems, makes it impossible to wash away the problems.


Infants and children are more vulnerable to neurotoxic insecticides because of absorption and a decreased elimination through their gastro-intestinal tracts. Infants’ kidneys, for example, are immature and cannot excrete foreign compounds such as drugs as quickly as adult kidneys.


But before we turn away from our fruit and veg; the dietary benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables are high — we need to start making lifestyle changes and become more interested in what we eat and where it comes from. Not everyone can afford to buy organic produce, but the tables below can still allow you to enjoy a full array of different types.


The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15


The ‘Dirty Dozen’ consistently have the highest levels of pesticides, making the argument to buy organic versions still very convincing but not compelling. These are:


Apples; Strawberries; Grapes; Celery; Peaches; Spinach; Sweet bell peppers; Nectarines (imported); Cucumbers; Cherry tomatoes; Snap peas (imported); Potatoes


The term ‘organic’ is under scrutiny in Vietnam where the use of pesticides and pollutants in the ground isn’t well controlled. All countries have different standards and enforcement; Vietnam still needs to progress in both dimensions.


The ‘Clean 15’ foods have the lowest pesticide load, and consequently, from the viewpoint of pesticide contamination, are the safest conventionally grown crops to consume. These are:


Avocados; Sweet corn; Pineapples; Cabbage; Sweet peas (frozen); Onions; Asparagus; Mangoes; Kiwi; Eggplant; Grapefruit; Cantaloupe (domestic); Cauliflower; Sweet potatoes


Peeling and scrubbing is always recommended so you can remove some of the pesticide residues that may be present. You may also want to peel conventionally grown cucumbers, eggplant, potatoes and apples. This peeling recommendation is due to two factors. First, the outermost surfaces may be the most affected by pesticide spraying and second, the petroleum-based wax coatings that may work against your health.


The medical impact on an adult of continually eating polluted vegetables and fruit cannot accurately be quantified. But there is concern about effects on IQ levels, skin infections and constant colds. Lifestyle changes together with preventative measures will help us in the years to come. A lot of people are turning to growing their own vegetables, as that way they can be assured where the produce has come from.


Harbouring Enemies


Beware when buying pre-washed vegetables; even when foods say ‘double-washed’, microorganisms can make their way into the water spreading onto whatever is being washed. Bag salads and cut greens have been some of the biggest culprits in spreading food-borne illnesses. Pay special attention to fresh herbs like basil, rosemary, cilantro and parsley. While washing these, always keep fresh produce away from other bacteria carriers, like raw chicken.


Extra Precautions


Home-made cleaning solutions with bleach, vinegar or lemon juice are fine for soaking fruit and vegetables as well as shop-bought produce — they eliminate more bacteria and microbes. But a good 20-second wash under the tap should be sufficient for most uncut produce.


Dr. Joy is a paediatrician at Family Medical Practice Hanoi. For information or assistance call (04) 3843 0748 (Hanoi), (08) 3822 7848 (Ho Chi Minh City) or (0511) 3582 699 (Danang). Alternatively, click on vietnammedicalpractice.com

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