Organic produce refers to fruit and vegetables grown without conventional pesticides or fertilizers made from synthetic ingredients. It is grown on both certified organic farms and non-certified organic farms. Certified organic farms are required to follow United States Department of Agriculture organic farming guidelines, whereas non-certified farms are not.
Does organic produce have fewer pesticide residues and disease causing bacteria?
In general organic produce contain lower amounts of pesticide residues and lower levels of pesticides, although it does vary depending on the fruit or vegetable. A recent study in the Journal of Food Protection compared organic and conventionally grown produce (tomatoes, leafy greens, lettuce, green peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, broccoli, strawberries, and apples). Results indicated that disease-causing bacteria or pathogens are rarely found in organic produce.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case when it comes to Escherichia coli bacteria. In fact, organic produce from non-certified organic farms is more likely to be contaminated with E. coli because of the prevalent use of cow manure (aged less than one year) as a fertilizer, or used as compost to enrich the soil.
Produce from certified organic farms on the other hand, was less likely to be contaminated with E. coli because of the more stringent guidelines imposed by the USDA regarding the removal of pathogens and bacterial contamination in manure used as fertilizer or compost. For you salad lovers out there--lettuce had the highest levels of E. coli bacteria--nearly 22% of the samples.
Does organic produce have higher nutrient levels?
The jury is still out on this one. Preliminary studies indicate that certain fruits and vegetables that are grown using organic farming methods do contain higher levels of vitamins, flavonoids, polyphenolics, and antioxidants. However, there haven't been enough studies to indicate just how much agricultural practices affect nutrient levels in fruits and vegetables. As many corporations have jumped onto the organic bandwagon, produce that was originally locally grown is now grown on mega-farms and shipped across the country. As a result produce is not as fresh with a corresponding decrease in nutritional value.
What's the bottom line?
You don't need to buy 100% organic produce unless of course, you want to. It is possible to pick and choose among fruits and vegetables and still avoid pesticides. Check out this handy wallet guide to help you decide which choices to make when shopping for produce. Whatever you decide, don't forget to wash your produce thoroughly. Just because it's organic, doesn't mean it's bacteria free and ready to use.
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