A couple of weeks ago I posted about the "Dirty Dozen," the top twelve fruits and vegetables found to have the largest amount of pesticide contamination. I referenced the term "Organic" in that post, which can actually mean a few things. The USDA created the "National Organic Program" which, according to their website is:
The National Organic Program (NOP) develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. The NOP also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.
I am going to highlight some of the information on their website as an overview of what the term "organic" means when it is on a product.
- "100% Organic" - contain only organically produced ingredients (except water and salt)
- "Organic" - must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients, the other 5% must be non-agricultural or agriculturally that is not available as organic
- "Made with Organic Ingredients" - contain at least 70% organically produced material
Producers of organic material that have a gross income from organic sales is below $5000 are exempt from the certification process put in place by the USDA. Otherwise, you will see the certifying agents information in the information panel on the product. There are quite a few chemicals that are allowed under certain conditions that will still allow for an organic certification. If you are interested in that list please click here.
To me, the government seems pretty good at providing loopholes. I am, by no means, an expert in organic food or farming. I do what I can to keep my family healthy, happy, and with the least chemical exposure possible.
We are a family on a budget that tries to eat as much whole food as possible. That means that I shop mostly to the "outside" perimeter of the store. We buy a lot of fruits and vegetables, some meats, dry beans and pasta, bread, eggs and dairy. I don't shop exclusively in the organic section, it would take too much of our food budget. I have to be thrifty living on a single salary, so I shop the produce that is on sale, always trying to buy local produce when I can. I do clean all of my produce before consuming it under running water and discard the outer leaves of lettuce. I have made a spray bottle of "Veggie Cleaner" for next to the sink. It is just equal parts water and white vinegar. You spray it on, let it sit a minute, scrub (if a hard skinned fruit or vegetable) then rinse well under running water.
I do believe that it is more important to eat fresh fruits and vegetables than worry about pesticide contamination. Even the non-organic produce is monitored and there is a "safe" threshold it cannot exceed. So, eat your fruits and veggies - organic or not - and make sure they are washed!