Pesticides and food
Pesticides are pest-killing substances that help protect plants against molds, fungi, rodents, noxious weeds, and insects.
Pesticides help prevent crop loss and, potentially, human disease.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, there are currently more than 865 registered pesticides.
Human-made pesticides are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. This agency determines how pesticides are applied during farming and how much pesticide residue can remain in foods sold in stores.
Exposure to pesticides can happen in the workplace, through foods that are eaten, and in the home or garden.
For those not exposed to pesticides at work, the risks of exposure from eating nonorganic foods or using pesticides around the home and garden is not clear. To date, research has not been able to prove or disprove claims that organic food is safer than food grown using pesticides.
FOOD AND PESTICIDES
To help protect yourself and your family from pesticides on nonorganic fruits and vegetables, discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables and then rinse the vegetables well with tap water. Peel hard-skinned produce, or rinse it with lots of warm water mixed with salt and lemon juice or vinegar.
Organic growers do not use pesticides on their fruits and vegetables.
HOME SAFETY AND PESTICIDES
When using pesticides at home:
- DO NOT eat, drink, or smoke while using pesticides.
- DO NOT mix pesticides.
- DO NOT set traps or place bait in areas where children or pets have access.
- DO NOT stock up on pesticides, buy only as much as you need.
- Read the manufacturer's instructions and only use as much of the product as directed, in the manner directed.
- Store pesticides in the original container with the lid firmly sealed, out of the reach of children.
- Wear any protective clothing, such as rubber gloves, specified by the manufacturer.
When using pesticides indoors:
- DO NOT apply pesticide sprays to items or areas touched by family members, such as furniture.
- Leave the room while the pesticide takes effect. Open the windows to clear the air when you return.
- Remove or cover food, cooking utensils, and personal items from the area being treated, then clean kitchen surfaces well before preparing food.
- When using baits, clear away all other food debris and scraps to ensure the pests are drawn to the bait.
When using pesticides outdoors:
- Close all doors and windows before using the pesticide.
- Cover fish ponds, barbecues, and vegetable gardens, and relocate pets and their bedding before using pesticides.
- DO NOT use pesticides outdoors on rainy or windy days.
- DO NOT water your garden after using a pesticide. Check the manufacturer's instructions for how long to wait.
- Tell your neighbors if you use any outdoor pesticides.
To reduce the need for pesticides to eliminate rodents, flies, mosquitoes, fleas, or cockroaches in and around your home:
- DO NOT place food scraps in the garden for birds, raccoons, or possums. Throw out any food left in indoor and outdoor pet bowls. Remove fallen fruit from any fruit trees.
- DO NOT place piles of wood chips or mulch near your house.
- Drain any puddles of water as soon as possible, change birdbath water at least weekly, and run swimming pool filter at least a few hours each day.
- Keep gutters free of leaves and other debris that can collect water.
- Keep potential nesting places, such as wood and trash piles, off the ground.
- Close outdoor trash bins and compost containers securely.
- Remove any standing water in the house (base of shower, dishes left in sinks).
- Seal cracks and crevices where cockroaches may enter the house.
- Wash pets and their bedding regularly and see your veterinarian for treatment options.
People who handle or are otherwise exposed to pesticides at work should carefully clean any residue from their skin and remove their clothes and shoes before entering the home or having contact with family members.
DO NOT buy illegal pesticides.
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Welker K, Thompson TM. Pesticides. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 157.
Last reviewed on: 5/17/2021
Reviewed by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.