What Are You Really Eating?

You head to the farmer's markets bright and early on a Sunday morning and hand over a decent chunk of change for some bruised tomatoes, a bag of apples and a punnet of oddly-shaped strawberries. They cost 30 per cent more than their supermarket counterparts but it’s totally worth it, isn’t it? Because fresh food straight from the source is healthier, tastier and, well, fresher than the produce section of your supermarket -- right?

Shopping at the Farmers market

The answer is yes and no, depending on where you shop, and depending on what procedures the farmer follows. It can be hard to know for sure, so it pays to be armed with a few questions next time you stock up your produce bin -- specifically, do you use any chemicals to protect your foods, and if so, which ones?

What's on your food?

Herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides… these common nasties may have complicated names, but the job they do -- protecting food from bacteria, weeds, mould, insects and rodents -- is pretty straightforward. They’re used all over the world out of necessity, but that doesn’t mean they’re altogether safe.

There are around 300 different pesticides registered in Australia for use on fruit and vegetable crops. Some pesticides are used on crops when they’re growing, while others are applied after harvest to protect produce during storage and transit. Certain types have been linked to illnesses and disorders, particularly in children, but only when found in large concentrations.

The foods that represent the highest "pesticide risk" in Australia are apples, wheat, strawberries, pears and grapes. The lowest risk fruits and veggies are corn, asparagus, onions, pineapples and avocado -- although the latter three are generally peeled before eating anyway.

How you can protect yourself against pesticides?

The easiest form of protection is also the friendliest on your wallet: simply grow some fruits and veggies in your own garden. If you don’t have the space, a petite herb garden will give you some fresh dill, basil and rosemary to add flavour to your meals.

If you’re not much of a green thumb, don’t despair: buying your fruits and veggies from a local farmer or greengrocer (whether certified organic or not) is perfectly safe, as is shopping for produce at your supermarket.

Consumer watchdog Choice Australia conducted a test of 30 different samples of frozen or canned fruit and vegetables, looking for 164 different pesticides. Five of the 30 samples were produced in Australia or New Zealand, while the rest were primarly imported from China or Southeast Asia.

“Encouragingly, we found pesticide residues in only three samples -- and even then, [they were] at levels well below the maximum residue limit (MRL),” a Choice spokesperson confirmed.

Buying close to home has many benefits -- it reduces your carbon footprint and helps support your local economy -- and shopping at your neighbourhood farmers market is a great way to kick-off your weekend. But the truth is, whereever you source your fruits and vegetables, your risk of becoming sick through pesticides is low.

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Tags: grocery shopping

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