Handle produce with care to remove pesticides
Professor Carl Winter, director of the FoodSafe Program at UC Davis, heard about the new study linking certain kinds of pesticides with an increased risk of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, and he became quite concerned. Not so much about the study itself, but the possibility that parents might now be less likely to serve fruits and vegetables to their kids.
"The most important thing consumers can do is eat fruits and vegetables," he said. "There's not, at this stage, the evidence that this causes ADHD. There seems to be a correlation but not a cause-and-effect relationship. We need to take these things seriously, but at the same time we don't want to unnecessarily scare consumers into avoiding fruits and vegetables."
The bigger danger, Winter says, is from bacteria that could cause illness. Contamination can happen anywhere along the food-supply chain, and such illnesses cost the U.S. an estimated $152 billion a year in health-care costs.
That's why it's important for people to wash their fruits and veggies. About.com has rounded up a list of tips from various sources, including the CDC. Here are a few:
• Rinse the produce under running water, but only when you're ready to prepare it. Foods have natural coatings, and washing them off could make them spoil faster.
• Wash hands thoroughly before preparing foods, and keep countertops clean.
• Wash foods even if they have a skin you plan to peel away, like carrots and cucumbers.
• Remove the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage, then wash the rest.
• Don't bother with the expensive sprays and rinses. They're a waste of money.
"No matter what food you have, you don't know who touched it before you got it, and for that reason you should do what you can to take care of it," Winter said.
Parents also can reduce their chances of exposure by buying only organic produce.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, analyzed urine samples from 1,139 children age 8 to 15. Nearly 95 percent of the kids had at least one chemical byproduct (called metabolites) of a class of pesticides called organophosphates in their systems. There are about 40 organophosphates in use in the U.S. One of them, malathion, was used widely in California in the 1980s to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly, which posed a controversial problem for then-Gov. Jerry Brown.
Researchers found that kids with the highest levels of malathion metabolite in their urine were associated with a 55 percent higher risk of having ADHD. About 10 percent of the children in the study pool had the disorder, slightly above the national average.
The study speculates that most of the children got exposure to the pesticides from residue on foods. It notes that a 2008 report showed 28 percent of frozen blueberries, 25 percent of strawberries, and 20 percent of celery contained one type of organophosphate.