Jenny Maloney

Food for Thought: Safe Food on Your Plate

When my two year old daughter was born, I scoured the internet, read every “mom blog” and bought way too many children’s cookbooks to figure out what types of fruits and vegetables I should introduce when she was ready for her first taste of solid food. And, I wasn’t alone. Many of my friends with young kids also had the same questions about types of foods, how food was grown, and whether it was GMO free, organic and local.

Knowing where my food comes from and how it was grown has always been important to me. Growing up, I had always been exposed to farming. My brothers and I managed a small herd of sheep and a commercial garden. By the time I was eight, we were running a small breeding program raising lambs and growing and maintaining a quarter-acre vegetable garden, and selling at the local farmers market.

From that point on, I had always viewed food through the eyes of a farmer (albeit, a small farmer). I learned how to care for the soil, when to plant, how to manage pests and how to respond to consumer demands for certain fruits and vegetables at the farmers market. I like to say that we were early trendsetters of the local and small farming movement, and our ugly tomatoes were way ahead of their time.

While I knew how I grew my own fruits and vegetables, I still needed to know how to pick safe food that didn’t come from my own garden.

Having previously worked at the USDA, I found out that the Department does an extensive job of collecting thousands of samples of produce every year which became another resource for me as I considered how to feed my child with nutritious food. The Pesticide Data Program (PDP) sampling includes over 100 different fruits, vegetables and other commonly eaten foods that are analyzed for over 600 different pesticides and metabolites. For the past 25 years, PDP has delivered information to American consumers showing that well over 99% of the foods tested have residue levels well below the legal limits set by EPA and pose no safety concerns. These USDA labs use analytical detection methods that are extremely sensitive and can detect trace amounts of pesticide at one part per billion. Just to get an idea of how small this is; one part per million is equivalent to just 1 drop of water in an Olympic sized pool! The USDA and the EPA provide much more detailed information about their testing and conclusions about the safety of pesticides on fruit and vegetables, and their Q&A document provides an informative and scientifically base summary.

Jenny Maloney
Jenny Maloney
Jenny Maloney,
Food Chain Sustainability Manager Bayer Crop Science

I also discovered the website by The Alliance for Food and Farming called SafeFruitsandVeggies.com. This science-based resource has a Pesticide Residue Calculator that shows how many servings of food you could eat in a day if they contained the highest pesticide residue for a given person and food. The Pesticide Residue Calculator shows that my daughter could eat 181 servings of strawberries without any effect from any residual pesticides. My daughter may love to eat strawberries but there’s no way she could eat that much! As the website states, “the mere presence of trace levels of pesticide residues on food does not mean they are harmful.”

The other thing I found from the data was that USDA tests for residues on organics and conventionally grown crops. Pesticides are used on both conventional and organic, with one of the major differences being that for USDA certified organics, only natural (non-synthetic) pesticides may be used. For a full list of the products that can be used on organics, click here.

From a nutrition perspective, the great news is that both organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are equally nutritious. Based upon an analysis of 46 studies, a 2009 report found that “there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.”

I had similar questions when I looked at GMO and non-GMO products. My first question was which fruits and vegetables are considered GMO. I found that most of the fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. are currently non-GMO. For the handful that are, I turned to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recent report on GMOs. The report finds that there is no evidence to suggest that foods from genetically engineered (GE) crops are less safe than foods from non-GE crops and it also finds that they can show benefits for the environment. More information on GMOs can be found at https://gmoanswers.com/ as well as new labeling laws that will go into place to identify what is, and isn’t a GMO.

In the end, the food you eat and feed your family is a personal choice. We are lucky that we have such a diverse selection of many healthy and safe foods at affordable prices.

As you make your grocery shopping decisions, don’t forget to wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating. Regardless of whether you choose conventionally or organically grown foods, the most important decision you can make is to eat the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.

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All Comments

Naomi
July 26, 2017 - 07:20 AM

Nicely done and very relevant especially as we start to get our heads around food innovation beyond GMO and think a whole lot more about sustainability. The concepts of Traceability, Transparency and Trust also rapidly converge.

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sinead duffy
July 26, 2017 - 07:14 AM

Great article!

Current Readers´ rating (1)

James McKillop
July 25, 2017 - 12:41 AM

Thanks for the article. Some great points made... however (call me pedantic if you must) 1 part in 1 million (1 ppm) is the same as 1 drop in 50 litres (or 13.2 US gallons). 1 part per billion (1 ppb) is like 1 drop in 50 cubic meters, which is about 1/50th of an Olympic swimming pool.
I know it's not the main point of your article, but if you're trying to educate people I think it helps to be accurate with simple things like that.
Thanks again. I hope I've helped, rather than detracted from an otherwise good article.

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Nancy Kilgore
July 02, 2017 - 12:53 AM

Great article Jenny!

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Ashley Phillips
June 30, 2017 - 08:24 PM

What a great read! I feel society and media, in a sense has made it difficult to know what the right food choices are. I appreciated all the information you shared and feel a sense of relief knowing that I am doing what's best for my family. Thank you Jenny!

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Kelli
June 30, 2017 - 05:58 PM

Love the article. I'm going to have to think twice before I spend extra money on organic.

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Shirley Machado Garoutte
June 30, 2017 - 05:41 PM

Valuable information!

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Laura Tozzi
June 14, 2017 - 10:35 PM

Great info! Very practical information for every family...especially those with small children.

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Meghean D Hurt
June 13, 2017 - 01:34 PM

I love how simply you explained one of Mom life's greatest debates. It even answered my questions.

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Renee Welch
June 13, 2017 - 01:35 AM

Very informative and useful information.

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