We're all concerned about food safety, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Last year's spinach scare raised everyone's awareness for potential problems created by improper food handling. The increased demand for certified organic produce indicates that folks care about more than just how their food's handled, too; they want it to be nutritionally sound and chemically uncontaminated.
Worldwide fruit and vegetable production is, simply, big business. I'd like to believe that some kindly gentleman in blue coveralls made certain that a peach headed for my table was carefully grown, hand picked at its peak, gently packed and rushed to my supermarket; but that's a decidedly Pollyanna scenario.
In fact, in order for a regular peach to make it to my supermarket in good-looking condition, it's been sprayed, usually more than once with (possibly with a total of nine different) pesticides. In fact, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org), a primarily foundation-funded, Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization made up of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers had peaches topping its "Dirty Dozen," a list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits or vegetables.
How did peaches, or any other fruit or vegetable get on that list? According to EWG the list was: "... based on the results of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2005."
Thanks to peach's soft skin, pesticides easily migrate into the fruit. Washing peaches and other soft-skinned produce minimally alters the pesticide under the skin.
I love a good peach and I'm not gonna stop eating them. But I am going to start eating organically grown peaches. Organic fruit and vegetables, by law, must be grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge, and cannot be genetically engineered or irradiated.
So what rounds out EWG's Dirty Dozen? In descending order: apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce and finally, potatoes.
Since I like everything on that list, I was decidedly unhappy about what made the top 12. However, if I want to lower my pesticide exposure, all 12 will have to be organic.
With a limited food budget, I'll need to purchase some conventionally grown produce, which means looking to the bottom of EWG's list to find the least pesticide-contaminated produce. Those are: papaya, broccoli, cabbage, bananas, kiwi, sweet peas (frozen), asparagus, mango, pineapples, sweet corn (frozen), avocado and onions.
It would take a major shift in business practices to eliminate pesticides from all fruit and vegetable production. For the time being, knowing which are the most and least contaminated can help us make informed buying decisions.
Try this recipe: Sometimes I really want a pasta-based meal, and with fresh tomatoes in season, now is a good time for one of my favorite ways of to combine tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. Serve this with whole grain, fiber-boosted pasta for a healthier meal.
Warm Penne with Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella Cheese
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice (or to taste)
1 medium garlic clove, minced (or pressed through a garlic press)
1 small shallot, minced fine
1 teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¼-½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1½ pounds fresh ripe Roma tomatoes, cored, seeded, diced into ½-inch pieces
12 ounces part-skim milk, low moisture mozzarella cheese
1 box (14.5 ounces) multigrain, higher fiber penne pasta (such as Barilla Plus)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
In a large mixing bowl whisk olive oil together with lemon juice, garlic, shallot, sugar, salt and pepper until well combined. Add tomatoes and, with a large rubber spatula, stir and fold together to combine; set aside.
In a large saucepan or stockpot over high heat, bring 4-quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and penne, stir, reduce heat slightly and cook until al dente, about 11 minutes. Drain well.
Add pasta to tomato mixture and stir and fold until combined. Add mozzarella cheese and stir and toss until evenly distributed; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in basil leaves, taste and, if necessary, adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.
Nutrition values per serving: 476 calories (28.6 percent from fat), 15.1 g fat (6.4 g saturated fat), 60.9 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 28 g protein, 33 mg cholesterol, 606 mg sodium.