If you are able to get organic foods, and can afford them, then try to use these as much as possible. Growing your own vegetables is much the cheapest way of avoiding pesticides in the long run, but in the short term it may be possible to get unsprayed produce from someone with a large garden or allotment. If none of these options are open to you, then shopping at a large supermarket is probably the best solution. Two supermarket chains – Sainsbury’s and Tesco – have their own systems for checking that fresh foods do not contain significant pesticide residues.
One major source of pesticides in our diet is potatoes, because these are sprayed after harvesting with a pesticide called thiabendazole, to prevent them from going mouldy. Significant amounts of this pesticide remain on the potatoes we eat. There are no legal limits on the amount of residue, although some large retailers (eg Marks and Spencer) set their own limits. If you can only afford to buy a certain amount of organic produce, potatoes would be a good choice. Fortunately potatoes are among the easiest vegetables to grow, and a small garden can provide a surprisingly large harvest. As long as you buy good quality seed potatoes you should not need to use any pesticides – planting ordinary potatoes is not recommended as they can succumb to viruses. For information on organic gardening methods.
Thiabendazole and other fungicides are also used to prolong the storage life of oranges and lemons. It is a good idea to wash such fruit in hot soapy water, and rinse them thoroughly, before grating the peel, or adding slices of lemon to drinks. Oranges that are to be peeled and eaten should also be washed, because the fungicide is contained in a wax layer which comes off on the hands during peeling and then contaminates the fruit.
Washing other fruit and vegetables thoroughly will help to reduce the amount of pesticide eaten, and peeling fruit will reduce the quantity further. When fruit is cooked in an open pan, some of the pesticides are boiled off, so this can help to lessen the amount that you eat.