Should you wash fruit & vegetables in Thailand?

20:24 Amy 29 Comments

In short: yes. Scroll down to the bottom to find out the best cheap way.

Thai-PAN just released a report revealing that fruits and vegetables sold in Chiang Mai markets and supermarkets are pesticide contaminated at a harmful level.

I used to wash my fruits and vegetables. I stopped, because I thought I was being paranoid. But seems not.

Samples of the fruits and vegetables that we eat every day in Chiang Mai were shipped off to the UK for pesticide residue testing. I can't read Thai, so I did some digging. According to this Bangkok Post article, the report states that "46.6% of samples contained residues higher than the accepted safety standard level." The article doesn't specify if this is a Thai or UK safety standard level, but whichever it is - it's higher than it should be, right?

I find the results pretty sad, and I don't know if this is something I should worry about. What do you think?

The worst part for me is that "fruits and vegetables collected from modern trade outlets where consumers pay higher prices did not have much higher safety standards than those in wet markets, with 46% of produce from modern trade shops."

I (usually) specifically shop at supermarkets rather than fresh markets when I can because I thought they would be less likely to sell pesticide-contaminated products - especially when they outright state that they're clean.

The Bangkok Post article says that "25% of the products certified as being organic, which were supposed to be free of chemicals, were found to contain chemical residues exceeding the accepted standards." I don't buy organic, but I do try to buy produce with 'pesticide free' and 'pesticide residue free' stickers on them, specifically so I don't have to waste time washing them. This report is saying that the pesticide-free and pesticide-residue-free stickers on the products I buy... could mean nothing?

I wish they'd tested salad; that's the one thing that's a real bitch to wash and dry.

The image below, produced by Thai-PAN to show the results of the testing, shows that all of the red chillies, oranges and guavas tested had pesticide residue exceeding the standards. Most of the basil, yard long beans, kale, dragon fruit and papaya exceeded the standards. And a good percentage of mangoes, Chinese cabbages, morning glory, tomatoes and cucumbers failed too. But yay for clean baby eggplants, cabbages and watermelon!


Sample size matters, though

According to, "the testing was based on 138 samples of fresh produce taken from various retail channels in the Greater Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani areas during mid-May."

I'd really like to know how many fruits and vegetables of each variety were tested. If just two oranges were tested, as I think Ploenpote from the Bangkok Post said here, that's just not a big enough sample size. Sure, it indicates that there could be a problem here, but it's not enough to say that ALL oranges in Thailand are above the safety standard. Does anyone know how many samples of each variety there were? Let us all know in the comments please :)

Banned, highly toxic pesticides found

Ploenpot said that the UK testers also found banned chemicals like carbofuran and methomyl on the cucumbers and oranges. I looked those two pesticides up. 

Wikipedia says that "carbofuran is one of the most toxic carbamate pesticides." Apparently it's particularly toxic to birds, and can be used to kill lions. I don't know about you, but I'm not that happy about inadvertently eating lion poison. Though obviously it's in much smaller quantities, so maybe it's nothing to worry about... the Wikipedia entry goes on to describe the effect of carbofuran in humans: 

"Carbofuran has one of the highest acute toxicities to humans of any insecticide widely used on field crops (only aldicarb and parathion are more toxic). A quarter teaspoon (1 ml) can be fatal. Most carbofuran is applied by commercial applicators using closed systems with engineered controls so there is no exposure to it in preparation. Since its toxic effects are due to its activity as a cholinesterase inhibitor it is considered a neurotoxic pesticide."
I wonder if poor farmers here apply carbofuran to their crops in a closed system with engineered controls, especially when this Greenpeace report states that "in order to save
labour costs associated with spraying, farmers often mix pesticides themselves,
creating a “cocktail” of several chemicals without considering their synergistic effects."

OK. How about methomyl? ................. crap.

"Methomyl is a carbamate insecticide introduced in 1966. It is highly toxic to humans, livestock, pets, and wildlife." -- Wikipedia

Switzerland won't import a whole bunch of Thai produce because the pesticide level is too high

I Google-translated this article from, written in French, which was shared on social media today. Apparently, mini-peppers, Thai aubergines, basil or pepper products grown in Thailand are no longer exported from the country.

How to remove pesticides from your fruit and vegetables

  1. Grow your own fruit and vegetables. Not really an option for me, and probably not for lots of you reading this.
  2. Don't worry about where you buy your fruit and veg from, and wash it before consumption. Heather over at Daily Mom says that you can do it by filling a large bowl with 1 part vinegar and 4 parts water and soaking your fruits and vegetables for 1.5 - 2 hours, then rinse and eat. White vinegar is super cheap here in Thailand.
  3. Alexandra from recommends discarding the outer layers of leafy vegetables before soaking.
  4. Eat more fruit and veg from 'The Clean 15' and less from 'The Dirty Dozen'.
I've seen some kind of detergent in Rimping that was labelled to be specifically for washing fruit and vegetables, too. 

Do you think restaurants wash their ingredients?

If you know anywhere that does this, let me know in the comments section :)

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