Strawberries – luscious or not so luscious
Strawberries are easily the most favourite berry in our house but is there a dirty little secret hidden under this luscious red gem? According to EWG’s “List of Worst Fruits and Veggies for Pesticides Residue”, the answer is yes! But this is an American list, I hear you say and you would be right, but of course pesticide residue isn’t isolated to the US alone. In 2008, CHOICE conducted testing on strawberries in Australia, purchased from both Coles and Woolworths, as well as independent fruit stores, organic food specialists and organic food markets in Sydney. Experts assessed each punnet on the quality of the berries and lab tested the strawberries from 31 different growers in total from all states (excluding South Australia and Tasmania) for pesticide residues. 27 of these were conventional growers and four were certified organic growers. CHOICE found the results of this testing concerning and it remained so when follow up tests were conducted in 2014. Some of the results included one sample containing a pesticide residue higher than the maximum residue limit (MRL). Residue of another was of a pesticide that regulators don’t permit growers to use in Australia. 17 of the conventionally grown strawberries contained residue of more than one pesticide.
Strawberries can be more likely than any other fresh fruit to be contaminated by pesticides. Washing doesn’t necessarily remove all of the residue as some pesticides can be systemic (meaning it penetrates right through or encompasses the entire strawberry inside and out). Other pesticides may have been designed to resist being washed off by rain, therefore the insecticide will remain when being washed by you!
Some of the insecticides and fungicides registered for use on strawberries in Australia include but are not limited to:
Captan: while there is little data available for testing on humans, Captan is known to have caused allergic dermatitis and eye irritation in humans.
Fenhexamid (Active ingredient in Teldor): while there is very little data available for testing on humans, Fenhexamid may be a possible liver, kidney and erythrocytes toxicant.
Iprodione (Active ingredient in Rovral): Listed as a Category 2 Carcinogenicity by the EU (meaning, it’s a suspected human carcinogen).
Myclobutanil (Active ingredient in Systhan): Listed as a Reproductive Toxicity by the EU. Listed as a skin irritant and acute toxicity on the HCIS
Chlorpyrifos (Active ingredient in Lorsban): Listed as acute toxicity on the HCIS and hazardous to our aquatic environment.
Pirimicarb (Active ingredient in Pirimor): Listed as acute toxicity on the HCIS and hazardous to our aquatic environment.
Pyrimethanil (Active ingredient in Scala): Hazardous to our aquatic environment
When we look at the statistics of berry eating in Australia, children between the ages of 2-3 years are the biggest consumers of these fruits. A vulnerable group! Due to lower body weight they are being exposed to higher levels of pesticide residue levels. The concern here for all, not just children, is that while the pesticides are tested individually for safe limits, they are not tested collectively and nor can anyone, expert or not, predict how they will react in any one body. For me, this is reason enough for my family and I to only ever consume organic strawberries. My Golden Rule is, “Organic only. If not available, we go without and substitute for something that is in season and is available in organic.”
In Western Australia, the peak growing season is from June to December. Outside of these months means the strawberries that are available are out of season and have travelled some serious food miles to get to the store. This means there is an environmental impact from consuming these products. It also means that the berry has been picked before fully ripened (the ripening process stops once the berry has been picked), therefore it’s not going to taste as luscious as it should. Yet another reason to only buy in season! Peak growing seasons for other states in Australia can be found here.
When buying strawberries:
Look for plump, glossy strawberries that are red all over and free of blemishes. A white rim near the hull, means they are not fully ripe. The calyx (green top) should be bright green and look fresh.
Strawberries are best stored in the refrigerator in the crisper drawer, in a container with air holes to allow the fruit to breathe. Do not wash them until you are ready to eat them. To obtain the full flavour of the berry, bring them to room temperature by removing from the fridge about 1 hour before you are ready to consume. Strawberries should last 4-7 days if stored well.
Nutritional Value and Benefits of Eating Strawberries:
Strawberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and contain ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is a compound that has been found to have anti-cancer and antioxident properties. Strawberries also have potent anti-inflammatory properties. They contain a wealth of phytonutrients including anti-aging anthocyanins, minerals, and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
Towards the end of the strawberry growing season, to ensure I always have a good supply of organic strawberries, I buy a bulk amount, wash and place in the freezer. They are a little mushy after freezing for eating fresh, but I find them absolutely perfect for smoothies and baking.
References: CHOICE - Strawberries test reveals pesticide health concerns https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/food-warnings-and-safety/pesticides/articles/strawberries-test-reveals-health-concerns Department of Agriculture and Food - Using pesticides in strawberries https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/strawberries/using-pesticides-strawberry-production-%E2%80%93-your-responsibilities-grower?page=0%2C1 Safe Work Australia - http://hcis.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/HazardousChemical Australian Bureau of Statistics - http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.007~2011-12~Main%20Features~Fruit%20products%20and%20dishes~725 World Health Organisation - http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/43624/1/9241665203_eng.pdf EWG - http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2016/04/strawberries-top-list-worst-fruits-and-veggies-pesticide-residues