Is Our Food Really “Dirty”?

We had the opportunity to hear a presentation by the talented Dr. Carl Winter this winter at a conference. He’s known as the “Elvis of E. coli” and the “Sinatra of Salmonella,” for his work in providing entertaining, educational and humorous presentations on food safety.

Winter brings a wealth of experience in food safety to the table. He currently is the Director of the FoodSafe Program and Extension Food Toxicologist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California at Davis.

We heard him speak on “Understanding Food Safety Risks,” and the points he shared really helped us understand just how safe our food industry really is.

Winter told us 96% of consumers say they’re concerned about the hazard of pesticide residues in foods. Much of that concern is fueled by misleading information in the media. He shared with us that samples are taken from produce on its way to market and the majority of samples contain no residue. What few do are well within the limits, and illegal residues — or traces of chemicals not allowed in the United States — are very rare, he noted.

In studies where animals — over the course of their entire lives — were exposed every day to 10,000 times the daily exposure of pesticides, there were no adverse effects observed. Wow! That really put it in perspective for us.

He also explained to us that organic foods are not necessarily pesticide free. They simply have different regulations. One of our fellow farm women at the conference grows organic produce on her farm. She explained that many organic farmers use pesticides, but they go through a different process to be approved for organic use.

You’ve probably heard of the “Dirty Dozen” foods. This list, released annually, can easily spread fear among all of us regarding the safety of our produce. However, that fear is uncalled for. Winter explained that in studies of these foods, researchers found there was very little exposure to pesticides. In fact it was so small that it equaled 1 millionth of the exposure found in a lab rat that had been exposed to 10,000 times their daily exposure. This study received no funding and was peer reviewed, so we can trust that it comes from unbiased sources.

If you’re still not sure about the safety of your food, there is some great information at We also encourage you to ask our volunteers about how they raise crops on their farms in Kansas. Plus, has some commonly asked questions that might help answer your questions.

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