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New research in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that soaking apples in a mix of water and baking soda for 12 to 15 minutes helps remove upwards of 80 percent of certain pesticides—far more than just rinsing them with water alone.
Cleaning the fruit with plain water or a cloth will make a difference, but adding baking soda to the water works better, says study author Lili He, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science at University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Most pesticides are stable during pH four to six, but baking soda is alkali (or high), which causes the pesticide molecules to degrade,” explains He. Her team only tested two kinds of commonly-used pesticides, but she points out that several other types are also unstable at a high pH. Plus, one of the pesticides He’s team did look at, fungicide thiabendazole, can actually penetrate the apple peel.
When it comes to pesticide risk, the dose makes the poison—the danger depends on what kind of pesticide and how much is on your fruit, and how often you eat it, He says. In small doses, it can affect your skin, lungs, mouth, and eyes and over time in large doses, it can influence everything from hormone disruption to genetic changes to cancer growth.
Soak your produce in a bowl of water with one percent normal baking soda stirred in (that's about one teaspoon baking soda in two cups of water). It’ll remove at least two key pesticides (including thiabendazole) and likely a handful of other low-pH offenders as well.