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Alexandra Whipple: What to consider when buying organic produce

Erie Times-News 6/16/2019 Erie Times-News
a person posing for the camera: Alexandra Whipple is a public health educator with the Erie County Department of Health. [FILE PHOTO/ERIE TIMES-NEWS] © FILE PHOTO/ERIE TIMES-NEWS/Erie Times-News/TNS Alexandra Whipple is a public health educator with the Erie County Department of Health. [FILE PHOTO/ERIE TIMES-NEWS]

It is finally the time of year when the first produce of the season is ripe and we start seeing locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables at markets and stores.

When shopping for produce, we are often faced with a question: Buy organic or not? Does it really make that much of a difference?

The answer is: It depends on what type of produce you are buying.

Organic fruits and vegetables are items that are grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Pesticides and fertilizers are used to increase the yield and quality of the produce we eat and the use of these chemicals is heavily regulated.

Although buying pesticide- and chemical-free produce is ideal, it's not always the most affordable option.

When purchasing produce from a local farm or at a farmers' market, feel free to ask the farmer what type of pesticides are used, if any, and if any chemical fertilizers are used. Many smaller farmers may be growing organic produce but don't have an official organic designation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture because it is costly for smaller commercial farms.

Not all organic foods are created equally. Each year, the USDA releases a list of the 12 types of produce that have been found to have the highest trace amounts of pesticide or another chemical residue on the harvested fruit. They are known as "The Dirty Dozen."

These foods are generally more difficult to clean. They include strawberries, apples, grapes, peaches, celery and leafy greens.

On the other hand, the USDA has a comparative list called "The Clean Fifteen."

These are typically foods of which we don't eat the skin and there's a lower risk of consuming pesticides if they were used. Foods on this list include avocados, corn, pineapples, onions, kiwi and some melons.

We all want to do what we can to stretch our food dollars a little bit further. So if trying to shop organic is something that interests you, consider these lists, what part of the produce you are eating, and how thoroughly you are able to clean the item before you eat it.

Alexandra Whipple is a public health educator with the Erie County Department of Health.

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©2019 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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