Is organic produce really pesticide-free?

I’ve told you why I often opt to pay a little more at the register for organic produce. Simply put, it’s more nutritious.

But many people “go organic” for an entirely different reason. They worry about the pesticides on conventionally grown produce. But, as I’ll explain in a moment, even organic produce can contain pesticides.

Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency sets tight limits on permissible levels of synthetic pesticide residue allowed on organic and non-organic produce. And the Federal Drug Administration regulates these limits.

The pesticide residue found on produce in the U.S. falls below these limits more than 99 percent of the time. Even on conventionally grown produce.

But consider this…

Just because you buy organic produce, it doesn’t mean you’ll avoid all pesticides.

Even organic fruits and vegetables and their seeds can contain low levels of natural pesticides.

Yes, there is such a thing as a “natural pesticide.”

For example, the volatile oils found in orange and lemon peel (citronella) act as natural pesticides. These oils repel insects. Of course, if you eat the peel, it may irritate your stomach. But these natural pesticides are NOT toxic in the manner of synthetic chemicals.

You find natural pesticides in many other natural foods as well…

Plants in the large botanical family of Rosaceae–such as bitter almonds, apples, cherry laurel, plums, peaches, and pears–contain the natural pesticide cyanide. It prevents microbes and insects from destroying seeds. You also find cyanide in cassava (tapioca), apricots pits, and orange seeds. As well as in soybeans, spinach, lima beans, sweet potatoes, maize, millet, sugarcane, and bamboo shoots. These foods all contain small amounts of cyanide that act as a natural pesticide.

Fortunately, these sub-lethal doses aren’t a problem for most of us.

But it can become a problem for vegans and vegetarians.

When you follow one of these restrictive diets, you must rely heavily on certain foods for your daily nutritional requirements. For example, if you don’t eat meat or dairy, you would have to eat 16 cups of spinach a day to get sufficient bioavailable B vitamins. And by eating that amount, you could begin to get into dangerous territory with cyanide. In my book, that possibility is one of many reasons never to give up meat.

Overall, organic produce is the way to go. Even if it contains some natural pesticides. But you don’t need to spend more on organic produce with skins, shells, or coverings that you remove before eating. So skip the pricey organic avocado, banana, mango, and pineapple.