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As we rely on grocery stores, farms and orchards to supply us with nutritious fruits and vegetables, we are at the mercy of what is claimed to be organic or not, and what chemicals are applied.

According to Health Vitals, “dirty” foods are fairly clean, and organic foods are not all free of pesticides. Pesticide residues are ranked based on criteria relating to the number of different pesticide residues seen on produce type, percentage of samples with pesticide residues, and the total amount of pesticide detected.

The chronic reference dose is the maximum amount that is "okay" to have if you are eating that food every day of your life. This level, just to be safe, is 100 times less than the amount that experimental animals were able to consume with no effects. That’s a big safety margin!

So how many of the "dirty dozen" exceeded the chronic reference dose? None. So even the dirtiest of the dozen had pesticide levels that are very, very, very low.

This brings us to the original "dirty dozen." The list will always have 12 items; and if farmers increase pesticide use by a million times overnight, or abandon pesticides all together, next year’s list would not reflect this change. The list will still be a dozen items long, and the supposed “clean 15” will still endorse 15 others! These 15 are not so innocent either: in a test by Environmental Working Group, the fruit/vegetable with the highest dose of pesticide was strawberries.

The 2017 list of the "dirty dozen" include: grapes, nectarines, apples, celery, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, cherries, cucumbers, spinach and potatoes. The 2017 "clean 15" include: sweet corn, pineapples, avocados, cabbage, onions, sweet peas frozen, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews melon, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and grapefruits.

If you are trying to avoid pesticide risk, buying organic won’t necessarily reduce your pesticide intake. The national list of approved pesticides for organic certified farmers include some fairly toxic substances, like copper sulfate, with little to no regulations to how much a farmer may use.

And, the once used and now banned Rotenone was used because it was from a plant rather than a synthetic source, showing that not all organic pesticides are necessarily better for the environment either. Many grocery stores have an organic section, but rarely are they sequestered far enough from the rest of the other fruits and vegetable to not be cross-contaminated.

So, what are your options this spring and summer for fruits and vegetables? Grow your own! One or two tomato plants may yield more than you really need, and the remaining 11 "dirty dozen "may be purchased from local growers.

Do your research and ask your vendors where they grow their goods and if they use chemicals. You may see their goods in commercial boxes making one wonder if they use the boxes for transport or did they purchase the goods with the box. Support your local growers and keep an eye out for farmers markets in our area.

The LifeSpan Center is located at 11021 E. County Road 800N, Charleston. The telephone number is 217-639-5150. Come join us each weekday at noon for “Lunch at LifeSpan.”

Peace Meals, sponsored by Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, are served Monday through Friday at a suggested donation of $3.50. To register, reserve a lunch or learn more, call 217-345-1800.

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