Produce Safety: Three Ways to Reassure Consumers

Produce Safety: Three Ways to Reassure Consumers

February 3, 2020

Facts Over Fear

Encouraging Consumers to Consumer more Fruit and Vegetables

By Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CPT, Nutrition Expert

We’re constantly bombarded with messages about what we shouldn’t be eating on a daily basis. Whether it’s avoiding gluten or nixing dairy from one’s diet, research is often cherry picked via the media to elicit fears in consumers to eat a certain way.

What’s disturbing as a healthcare practitioner is knowing individuals will receive these conflicting messages and not have the full story to make the best decision on how to feed themselves and their family. Case and point: the organic versus conventional produce discussion.

With less than one in 10 Americans eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables a day, it’s no surprise that some of that gap is related to concerns over the safety of produce and pesticide residues. Research conducted in both 2014 and 2016 found that low income consumers were often so confused about the safety of produce based on messaging they heard surrounding pesticides that they would refrain from purchasing any produce at all – organic or conventionally grown.

As a result of these findings, the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) surveyed registered dietitian nutritionists to better understand the barriers faced in encouraging clients to feel confident about incorporating more produce into their diet.

After interpreting the results, the AFF then invited a group of dietitians (known as the RDN Action Committee) from various avenues of dietetics to come together to discuss these challenges faced within the profession. The goal of this committee was to identify a set of action steps to help other professionals feel confident about encouraging their clients to consume more produce regularly.

Given the challenges of reaching dietitians who practice in multiple areas of dietetics across the United States, the committee chose to focus on three ways dietitians could assure consumers about the safety of eating more produce that would apply to all.

Below you’ll find the three ways outlined, with not only a sample social media message to share, but also further research to support the tip and reinforce the safety of produce.

  1. Advocate for consumers to focus on a plant forward lifestyle using “food as medicine”.

No, we aren’t saying push vegetarianism or veganism on consumers. But rather moving the produce to the center of the plate and focusing on encouraging eating more plants from both the fruit and vegetable groups for the long-standing benefits for total health. From fighting off free radicals in the body to aiding recovery from a tough workout, we know very well fruits and vegetables contain important nutrients that promote optimal health.

Research Support:

Rest assured, peer-reviewed science continues to back up this message. Click here to review the two Tufts studies that support the concept of using “food as medicine” with the produce patch front and center!

Social Media Message: #FoodisMedicine Move produce to the center of your plate to improve health and prevent disease. Think #BlendedBurgers, #AvocadoToast, #VeggieChili & More! Checkout these 12 produce picks to incorporate today! (include infographic below) #AddOneMore

  1. Encourage washing of produce before consumption to minimize pesticide residues.

First off, washing produce doesn’t require any expensive sprays or washes. Just as the FDA says, all you need to do is rinse your fruits and vegetables (even those with skins) under cool, running water. Check out the infographic here for more information.

Now, if you are getting questions about the amount of pesticide residue that remains on produce, rest assured you aren’t alone. The AFF heard these queries and responded by creating the Pesticide Residue Calculator, a state of the art tool that helps identify the amount of produce a man, woman, teenager or child could eat in a day without experiencing any adverse effects from pesticide residue.

Research Support:

Not only did the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) 2018 report indicate the safety of produce stating that “95% of all samples tested had no detectable pesticide residues or were actually below levels allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”, but similar findings were also made public in the USDA Pesticide Data 2018 Report as well as the FDA sampling data report as well. Bottom line: organizations across the board continually find both conventional and organic produce safe for consumption.

Social Media Message: #JustWashIt Research proves you can reduce pesticide levels on produce by just washing it! Plus, both the USDA and FDA agree both organic and conventional produce is SAFE! #AddOneMore

  1. Add one more fruit or vegetable to your daily diet. #AddOneMore

Seriously, this tip is that simple: ADD ONE MORE! Yes, informing consumers on the short and long term benefits of adding one more piece of produce to their diets is crucial to help increasing produce consumption overall and dispelling the fears around their safety. The committee encourages RDNs on social media to partake and show their followers how simple it is to #AddOneMore to their plates. Be it a serving of mushrooms blended into a burger or a side of carrots to go with dip, it’s all about moving the needle toward eating more produce through small changes.

Research Support:

It’s well known that adding more produce to one’s daily diet can help prevent diseases. Using the research on reducing premature death or the literature that supports 20,000 annual cancer cases could be prevented with the addition of one or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, RDNs can show consumers the promise produce has in their lifelong health.

Social Media Message: DYK 20,000 cases of cancer could be prevented if we just #AddOneMore fruit or vegetable to our plates! Show us how you #AddOneMore by tagging us in your fruit and veggie centered meals!

Remember, the AFF is a non-profit organization, with the purpose of educating consumers using sound science and encouraging more produce consumption; something many (if not all) healthcare professionals can support as well! To help further explain the research and guide RDNs in educating consumers, the AFF launched a new section of their website “For Dietitians” to provide an easy to navigate space for professionals to access.