Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Lemon Wedge in My Water? Not Anymore!

March 22nd, 2013 · 77 Comments · Food for Thought, Green Living

I’ve really been enjoying squeezing lemon into my water lately and dropping in the wedge to flavor the next refill a bit.

I’m already changing my new habit.

I’m a pretty faithful produce washer, but as luck would have it, this week I cut a corner while getting my son’s lunch ready. My hands are pretty raw from washing them 5 million times a day and the fact that the first day of spring had a zero-degree wind chill here.

So I didn’t wash the orange.

Imagine my surprise when the box of oranges I bought at Costco later that same day (coincidence? I think not!) had this plastered on the top:

“Treated to maintain freshness in transit with one or more of the following: Orthophenylphenate, Thiabendazole.”

I couldn’t help noticing THAT.

And sure enough, the box at home that the unwashed orange that morning had  come from said similar on the side:

“Treated to maintain freshness in transit with one or more of the following: Imazalil, Sodium O’Phenylphenate, Thiabendazole. Coated with food-grade vegetable-, beeswax-x and/or lac-resin-based wax or resin.”

I’ve always known that even the fruits with thick rinds, like a cantaloupe for example, need to be washed before cutting. The whole thing goes on your cutting board, and just the action of the knife cutting through can move dirt and bacteria from the outside directly to the fruit.


I think God wanted me to have a little reminder (and lesson!) about what our food system does to citrus in particular this week, since I’m already thinking critically about Natural Health Month here at KS. (top photo source)

I never really think about what exactly is on my fruits and veggies, I guess. Seeing that list of awful-sounding chemicals shocked me.

Want to know what they are?

  • Imazalil – fungicide
  • Thiabendazole – fungicide and parasiticide
  • Sodium O’Phenylphenate (aka Orthophenylphenate) – disinfectant

I suppose it’s kind of a nice perk to have to throw away fewer oranges, grapefruits and lemons because they’re all moldy. But what’s the cost?

(photo source)

Here’s what else all those chemicals do:

  • Imazalil – carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and a developmental or reproductive toxin (source), and it stays on oranges at levels that can reach higher than a 44-pound child should be exposed to in one day (50 μg)! (source and graph: What’s on my Food?) It also is eco-toxic and kills fish. (source)

toxic imalzalil on oranges

  • Thiabendazole -  also a human medication, likely carcinogenic, and disturbing to thyroid hormone levels in high doses (source). In the environment, it stays in the soil a long time and is extremely toxic to fish, but the EPA doesn’t think that will be a concern, since it probably won’t get into drinking water (source). Really?
  • Sodium O’Phenylphenate (aka Orthophenylphenate) – carcinogen (source), suspected gastrointestinal or liver toxicant, but nearly half of the basic 8 toxicity tests haven’t even been run on it yet (source). The growers have to rinse the fruit well with water after a minute of exposure, or else even the fruit will an injury from “toxic levels” of the chemical! (source)

And this is before I even get into the fact that the skin is waxed, too, which seems like it would make it harder to get the chemicals off.

Why So Many Chemicals on the Fruit?

The government mandates some sort of treatment for any citrus moving interstate. There are options to use hydrogen peroxide, but I certainly didn’t see that listed – which wouldn’t even have to be rinsed, I’m sure! – on the boxes.

I just keep thinking about those lemon wedges floating around in my water all day, soaking off all this crap into my drink and my body. I picture my little guy gnawing on a lemon wedge because he thinks it’s funny.

And in a restaurant, where I love to get lemons too, how well do you think they’re washed before they’re cut (if at all)?

The Good News

berkey filter (4) (475x356)

None of these chemicals are approved for use in organic produce, so IF you can find (and afford) organic lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, you don’t have to worry about them.

Unfortunately, antibiotics are used in even organic pear and apple growing – read more here.

For the rest of us, perhaps it’s time to use a scrub brush on that citrus instead of a quick obligatory rinse. I’m going to resurrect my habit of using a squirt of some sort of produce wash (I tested and reviewed 8 different commercial and homemade produce washes) on ALL produce, even the thick-skinned stuff.

When I find organic citrus, I’ll definitely zest the peels and freeze the zest, since I really don’t want to be directly consuming the waxes and chemicals. (Have you seen the top 10 foods in my freezer to speed up dinner prep? I should add “zest” to the list.)

I’ll also peel oranges instead of cutting them into cute smile-wedges for my kids. (How many times have you seen schools serve orange wedges with the peel, and how well if at all were those washed???)

And finally, you won’t see a wedge of lemon floating elegantly in my drink anymore…but I will still squeeze in the juice to get the health benefits of lemon water, after I wash it well.

What’s your produce washing philosophy? Does this concern you?

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77 Comments so far ↓

  • Sharon via Facebook

    Sad to say, most children will do better with the cut oranges at school than without. I would hate to tell them not to eat one of the very few fruits and veggies that they’re getting.

  • Lisa via Facebook

    Un-washed produce can also give you food poisoning, even organic. Plus have you ever watched people when buying produce? How many times has that fruit been touched?

  • Valerie via Facebook

    I just took two lemons out of the fridge to use later…I need to go soak them ASAP…sigh…I swear the more I learn, the scarier the world gets. NOTHING is safe anymore.

    stanford Lewis Reply:

    This is part of becoming paranoid . yes, it good to be clean and careful ,but one can go too far. our bodies have disease fight bacteria for just these reasons balance is everything.

  • Michele via Facebook

    Makes one really skeptical of washing everything. I use straight white vinegar in a spray bottle and soak the fruit or veggie, then rinse. I would be saying and asking for the wasted lemons for compost!

  • Berny

    I usually soak fruit and veggies in 5 parts water to 1 part vinegar to clean my fruit for about 5 minutes. You can rinse again after but you can’t taste the vinegar on it if you don’t.

    But good grief! They spray antibiotics on organic pears and apples? Is nothing sacred in the food industry any more?

  • Heather via Facebook

    I buy organic lemons to slice in my water and I use a scrub brush to clean them up first. But good to remember about this at restaurants!

  • Ashley via Facebook

    Oh my goodness that’s awful. I will defiantly be looking more closely to my produce from now on

  • Heather Burris

    Though it doesn’t do anything for our children’s snacks, I put a drop of Young Living lemon essential oil in water when I’m out at a restaurant. I let it sit for a while so the EO can kill/neutralize bad stuff in the water and then enjoy a refreshing and clean (or at least cleaner than a lemon peel) beverage!

    maureen elizabeth Reply:

    YaY I LOVE young living .. i was thinking of the lemon essential oils as i was reading this and came across your comment .. long live young living ~

    Margaret Reply:

    Just don’t do this if they are using a plastic cup. Lemon eo will break down the plastic and then you are also drinking that plastic. We love the Citrus Fresh blend in our drinks at home. I might have to buy another bottle to take with us when we eat out. The lemon eo tends to sting my daughter’s skin around their mouths a little :-/

  • Kimberly

    Wow, thanks for sharing this information. I always wondered why organic lemons molded so quickly compared to conventionally grown lemons.

  • Amy via Facebook

    And you DO NOT want to know how those lemons are handled in restaurants…trust me!

  • Bonnie via Facebook

    Oh yeah, I always knew this. I only squeeze!

  • Jenifer via Facebook

    I usually ask for the lemons on the side and then squeeze the juice in my water but leave the lemon out. I do it because I heard that the lemons aren’t washed well by the restaurants.

  • Elizabeth

    I had worked in a few restaurants, and we never washed the lemons, and that ALWAYS shocked me…and completely turned me off from it too!

  • C Smith

    I thoroughly wash all my fruits and vegies with plenty of water and a mild detergent I get from the wholefoods store. I buy organic as much as possible and grow what I can in my tiny yard. I am actually looking at getting a lemon tree for this reason once they are sold locally this spring. I have also read about the mold that sometimes grows on the lemons when they are crated. Yuck! It is easy to see it when you are picking out the fruit, but you can’t rely on someone else to be as concerned for your health as you are, so I will never get lemons while I am dining. :( It is sad that we have to worry about things like this. Our FDA is supposed to protect us from the very things they are allowing and demanding on our foods!

    thixotropic Reply:

    It isn’t “our” FDA any longer — it’s theirs. Arsenic? No problem! Putting unnecessary neurotoxic metals into our children’s vaccines? Have at it! Drugs that elevate blood sugar, and therefore cause diabetes, and also cause brain tissue shrinkage? Go for it! Make it the number one prescribed class of drugs in the nation! GMO ‘foods’ that kill bees, anything that eats them, and cause infertility? Sure! Appointing industry lobbyists to head the very government regulatory agencies they used to lobby against? Done every day.

    But raw milk? Take it out with SWAT teams! Growing organic food in your front yard instead of a lawn? More SWAT teams!
    I wish I were exaggerating. You can look it up.

    It’s not our FDA, USDA, or much of anything else. They own it, lock, stock and barrel.
    This is what’s called regulatory capture, wherein corporations buy government and use it to protect themselves and exploit everyone else. And we won’t get rid of it as long as we’re falling for the old blue state/red state line. We’ve got two puppets, one puppeteer.

    We need to begin growing our own food, in our own communities, and do as much locally as we can. Corporatism is taking over America, and we’ll have to both fend for ourselves, and look after each other. Create your own occupation, because they’re not going to give you a job. Do what needs doing. Use available materials. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Get creative! Co-operate with others in your community. Build more community. You can do it.

    The Future is Local. We can make it happen, and we truly don’t have any choice. No election is ever going to fix this mess: we have to do it ourselves, from the ground up. The good news is, nothing could be more rewarding that what we can create, together.

    Give these words some thought, because you’ll see how true they are, in the years to come.

    Bless us one and all.

  • Wendy

    I’ve been skipping the lemon in my water at restaurants because of an article in Reader’s Digest about the servers not washing their hands and then touching the cut lemons; didn’t think about the junk on the peel. Thanks for bringing this info to our attention.

    Gretchen@HealthfulMama Reply:

    Wendy, as someone who waited tables in a fairly-upscale restaurant, I can assure you that a server touching your lemon is the least of our germaphobic worries ;)

    Good to know about these chems on our fruit, though!

    Kim Reply:

    That’s just gross. Why wouldn’t people who work in restaurants have good hygiene and follow good food safety practices? It’s their job! I hate being a germaphob. I wish I didn’t care. :P

    Wendy Reply:

    No doubt! Luckily, eating out is something very rarely happens in our family. We usually go to ‘Wendy’s’ (me!) :D

  • Marie via Facebook

    I keep these packets in my purse now. http://www.truelemon.com

  • Pam@behealthybehappywellness

    I use a drop of Essential Oil – easy to carry in my purse and super yummy: http://behealthybehappywellness.com/2013/03/lemon-oil-drink-it/

  • Pam via Facebook

    I use lemon oil – just keep a little bottle of it in my purse. Sometimes I go crazy and use orange or Citrus Fresh! :) http://behealthybehappywellness.com/2013/03/lemon-oil-drink-it/

  • Joanne via Facebook

    Sometimes I wonder if there is ever going to be anything safe to eat anymore…:/

  • Cinnamon Vogue

    Wow what a great post. Thank you so much for this. An outstanding job. I loved the explanation of all the chemicals and what it does to you. I always mistrusted the supermarket fruits preferring to get the fresh oranges, Lemons and Tangerines from my mother’s garden, which really are the best and the cheapest. LOL. I always knew I mistrusted Tomatoes because they pluck them green and use a chemical to make them red in transit. So I switched to Hunts Vine ripened tomatoes or grow my own. Sometimes I will buy an organic tomato of course, but they are so expensive it’s more fun to grow your own. Now if we can find a place to buy good organic seeds for vegetables that would great. But an absolutely fantastic post.

  • via Facebook

    Yuck! We don’t usually buy these organic, but I use the zest after washing them thoroughly with soap. Would I still get those nasties in my baked good after thorough washing?

  • Charleen via Facebook

    I stopped doing that a few years back :(

  • Violet via Facebook

    I HATE when they bring me my iced tea and there’s lemon in it!

  • Judith via Facebook

    When my daughter went into Food Service she noticed that the restaurant/bar either didn’t wash the produce at all or they used dish soap! So she started bringing a gallon of white vinegar and washing the citrus for her station. Her supervisor asked her why and when she explained the supervisor was amazed that a 19 yr old kid would know this. She told her, that’s life with an all natural heath nut like my mom.

  • Juliana

    I use the Environne (sp?) wash that is sold at Trader Joe’s. If I am going to use citrus zest, I try to always make sure it is from a local grower (or the not-super-tasty but fine for zest oranges in our back yard), or store-organic if I am desperate. My thought is that a small scale farm is much less likely to use those kinds of after-treatments (the gals I buy from promise there are no pesticides, either), because they aren’t trying to transport the fruit a long distance, or anything.

    I always wash apples super well, and peel them at least some of the time for my littler one, because the apple farmer I usually buy from has told me that he would prefer not to use any sprays, but one can’t (at least around here?) successfully grow apples without a lot of worms without using spray, and he can’t find enough people willing to buy wormy apples. So he uses the organic spray, but no waxes. Still worth the cost of produce wash, and the time to scrub and scrub and scrub, as far as I am concerned.

  • Gwenda

    So glad I don’t live in your country. I know my lemons are organic, they grow in my back yard.

  • via Facebook

    Joanne Preston and Valerie Beaumier I feel that way sometimes, too, but really, this is more of a reminder to wash the produce. We can’t avoid all toxins if we want to keep breathing the air, you know? So it’s like – don’t sit down next to a car exhaust pipe and have a picnic while the car is on, but don’t freak out about taking a walk just because a car might drive by and you’ll breathe some of its exhaust. You know? So don’t skip washing your oranges, but don’t stop eating fruit, either. :)

  • via Facebook

    Sweet Kisses and Dirty Dishes I don’t know! I’d love to see a study of how effective washing is to get certain chemicals off all sorts of things. This IS sprayed on afterward, so it’s not like it’s a chemical that is drawn up through the roots and into the fruit itself, it’s literally just sitting on the rind. So I’m hopeful…

  • Elisabeth via Facebook

    When I need to cut corners, I don’t necessarily buy lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit organic. The thick rind supposedly protects it from a lot of toxins. I didn’t realize, however, that they were intentionally adding toxins to the thick rinds.

  • Stacy via Facebook

    Um, my husband EATS the lemons they bring with the water at restaurants. Rind and all.
    I get lazy and neglect to wash even regular produce. :(

  • Sarah

    I wash all peels and rinds we don’t eat, but not as well as the ones we do. What I have wondered, is it still okay to compost them for my garden? The whole point of making compost is to garden organically, but am I undermining that?

  • Serena

    Another reason to peel citrus, is that biting into an orange wedge is hard on your tooth enamel. As a kid a dentist told me to peel rather than wedge.

  • Julie via Facebook

    and even if the lemons were washed in the restaurant..they are handled sometimes by 2-3 people by the time they get in your drink or on your plate. I stopped using them years ago jsut because of this.

  • Julie via Facebook

    and even if the lemons were washed in the restaurant..they are handled sometimes by 2-3 people by the time they get in your drink or on your plate. I stopped using them years ago jsut because of this.

  • Kathleen K

    All fruit gets washed when it comes into our home (except berries, which are washed right before eating). We are blessed to live in one of the citrus growing states, and yes, I can tell when the oranges and grapefruit are Texas homegrown–they mold. The stuff from California rarely does. I try to buy lemons organic…in fact I have some in my fridge that need to be juiced to freeze for summer use.

  • marcella

    This whole thing makes me very happy that I have always disliked the taste of lemon slices in my drinking water. It seems though that a thorough wash would make it ok for you to enjoy at home – why do you write that you won’t anymore? Ironically, today I am off to prune my sisters monster lemon tree. It’s my birthday gift to her. She has the most amazing tree and doesn’t ever spray them.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Marcella,
    I’m HOPing that a thorough wash and scrub does the trick…but why risk it? I’ll just use the juice and put the peel in the garbage disposal to freshen that up. ??? :) Katie

  • Lisa via Facebook

    I even was bananas, watermelon, pineapple. My mom always said, you don’t know where is has been or what animal my have urinated on it. Gross! Now it is the chemicals we need to watch out for.

  • Lisa via Facebook

    I even was bananas, watermelon, pineapple. My mom always said, you don’t know where is has been or what animal my have urinated on it. Gross! Now it is the chemicals we need to watch out for.

  • ruby

    I have NOT left any citrus fruit floating in my water at a resturant now for about a year. my first glass was always great then the second and third tasted like chlorine. Now I asked for them to be brought separately and I squeeze and then put them in the discard pile to be taken away.

  • Adrienne @ Whole New Mom

    Yup. Years and years ago I started washing bananas before peeling them after seeing super long words on the banana boxes indicating what had been sprayed on them. Blech.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I may have to start…I worry about bananas because kids get pretty intimate with their peels sometimes, you know? ;) Uck.

  • Kate via Facebook

    I don’t usually wash produce very well…I just can’t worry about it. And especially if I know it’s local or organic I think the soil bacteria is probably good for us. So, it depends on where you buy it and so on. But in general? There are too many things to worry about and I can’t do this. I don’t usually toss the rinds in my drink though, I juice them first and toss the rinds out.

  • Kate via Facebook

    I don’t usually wash produce very well…I just can’t worry about it. And especially if I know it’s local or organic I think the soil bacteria is probably good for us. So, it depends on where you buy it and so on. But in general? There are too many things to worry about and I can’t do this. I don’t usually toss the rinds in my drink though, I juice them first and toss the rinds out.

  • Kristi

    http://www.azurestandard.com for excellent prices on organic fruits and vegetables. I bought 3 pounds of organic lemons in my last order and they have been excellent!

  • Terri via Facebook

    I worry more about the chemicals than the dirt or even bacteria. Thanks for posting this, I didn’t know.

  • Terri via Facebook

    I worry more about the chemicals than the dirt or even bacteria. Thanks for posting this, I didn’t know.

  • Amanda Yoder

    I saw a similar warning on my organic oranges and was very upset! Apparently they still use some kind of chemical treatment to coat them for transport, which is annoying! Even though I’m glad they aren’t grown with chemicals, it’s just so disheartening

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Really?? :( The information I was able to dig up made it sound like these fungicides aren’t approved for organic. I wonder if anyone has a bag or organic oranges and can comment on this…I think it should be more like hydrogen peroxide than these carcinogenic ones (fingers crossed hopefully) –
    :) Katie

  • Andrea

    I’ve been buying organic oranges and apples in bulk from Azure Standard for around $1.20/lb for the last 2 years. It’s not the most convenient way to get produce, but now I’m so glad I have! Yeah, I get some moldy oranges in the box from time to time, but so worth throwing out a few oranges than dealing with the chemicals. Great post!

  • Yorba via Facebook

    Pam, I always order water with lemom and eat the lemon to freshen my breath after dinner. Thank you for sharing this info. Will have to change my habit.

  • Yorba via Facebook

    Pam, I always order water with lemom and eat the lemon to freshen my breath after dinner. Thank you for sharing this info. Will have to change my habit.

  • Pavil, the Uber Noob

    Until modern refrigeration, the only way Northern Europe ever saw citrus fruit was as marmalade.

    Ciao, Pavil

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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