Avoiding Food Additives and Chemicals

Washing tomatoes removes chemical residues.
PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

The words "chemicals" and "additives" sound scary to some people, but there's no need for the average consumer to be afraid of either food additives or chemicals. In fact, almost all of the food in your local grocery store has at least one type of additive in it (or on it). They've been tested for safety, and they're only present in tiny amounts, certainly far below any dangerous levels of exposure.

But if you are concerned about consuming pesticides and other residues, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to these substances.

Wash Your Fruits and Vegetables

Most of the fresh produce you buy still has the covering (skin, peel, husk, shell, etc.) intact because those coverings help protect and preserve the perishable parts inside. Fruits and vegetables that have been exposed to chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are apt to have some residues of those chemicals on their surfaces.

Washing your fruits and vegetables before you eat them will help remove some of the chemical residues and, of course, as well as bacteria and other germs. You should rinse all fresh fruits and veggies with water (no soap). Even produce with inedible skins like bananas, oranges, and melons should be cleaned to prevent contamination of the flesh inside.

Go Organic​

Organic crops are grown without chemical pesticides or herbicides so fruits and vegetables labeled as organic won't have the level of chemical residues that regular produce has—although there may still be some cross-contamination, depending on the farming practices used. Organic meats are produced from animals that are not given any extra hormones and are only fed organic feed.

Always look for the United States Department of Agriculture organic labels. Foods that bear the "100 Percent Organic" label are made with all organic ingredients. Foods that are labeled only as "Organic" need to be made with 95 percent organic ingredients while foods with the words "Made with Organic Ingredients" on the label may only be 70 percent organic.

Read Food Labels

Packaged foods must have the ingredients listed on the box or bag. Look for artificial food colorings and dyes that have a number, something like "FD&C Green No. 3." Other food additives you might see on the label include BHT and BHA, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin. 

Trim the Fat ​

Hormone residues are often stored in animal fat. Buy leaner cuts of meat, trim the fat from meats, and choose non-fat milk. You can also buy organic milk and BGH-free milk that comes from cows that have not been given bovine growth hormone.

Stay Away From BPA ​

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical compound found in some hard plastic products such as baby bottles, water bottles, and hard plastic cookware. BPA is considered a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) by many researchers. Buy products that are BPA-free, or choose products made from materials other than plastic, such as cardboard or glass. You also should avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers, as trace amounts of plastic may leach into your food when heated.

Use a Water Filter 

In most places in the U.S., tap water is generally regarded as safe for drinking and cooking. However, you can remove chlorine or other impurities with an in-home water filter or water filter pitcher. You can buy filtered water in the grocery store, too, either in new bottles or from a fill-it-yourself dispenser. 

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Seachrist DD, Bonk KW, Ho SM, Prins GS, Soto AM, Keri RA. A Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Bisphenol A. Reprod Toxicol. 2016;59:167–182. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2015.09.006

  • Cornell University, Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research. "Reducing Exposure to Home and Garden Chemicals."