Fruit Leathers Have Detectable Pesticides: Report

Many brands of fruit leathers, a popular children's snack, have detectable levels of pesticides, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization aiming to improve human health and the environment. Pesticides can also be detected in dried fruit snacks.

It released the results today in a report, "Fruit leather: A snack sometimes chock full of pesticides and sugar."

The Environmental Working Group's bottom line: "Fresh fruit is always going to be better," says Sydney Evans, a science analyst for the group and a report co-author. She says dried fruit snacks work better than fruit leashes to minimize pesticide exposure. And organic products are superior than conventional or non-organic.

But others blasted the report. Teresa Thorne (executive director, Alliance for Food and Farming), a non-profit group representing conventional and organic farmers, says that "this fearmongering must stop." She claims that the levels discovered are far below what is considered acceptable.

Report Details

Environmental Working Group asked an independent lab for 37 samples of non-organic and organic fruit leathers from 10 manufacturers. They also requested 30 samples dried fruits from 16 brands. The process of making fruit leathers is to dehydrate the puree and create a smooth, shiny sheet that has a leather-like texture.

Evans states that none of the tested samples were found to be above pesticide tolerance limits set by federal law. The group disagrees.

The Environmental Working Group, whose sources of funding include organic food businesses, found that pesticides could be detected in 26 non-organic (conventional), fruit leather samples tested.

Some organic products had higher pesticide concentrations than conventional products. The pesticide level in Trader Joe's Organic Apple Strawberry Wrap was 247 parts per million (ppb), while Bob Snail Apple Strawberry Stripe had only 106 ppb.

Stretch Island Raspberry fruit leather had 17 pesticides in it, which was the highest concentration of any of the leathers. Researchers looked at total pesticides. Also known as total pesticide level, the samples taken from Stretch Island and Trader Joe's were the most concentrated.

Fludioxonil (fungicide), thiabendazole and pyrimethanil were some of the most frequently found pesticides. It has been shown that pesticides can cause cancer, hormone disruption, adverse effects on the reproductive system, and birth defects.

Evans said that "fresh fruit is always better", if you have to choose between fruit leathers or dried fruit. She recommends dried fruit snacks to be preferred over fruit leathers. A study by the Environmental Working Group of 30 dried fruit products showed that conventionally grown dried cherries, dates, figs and prunes did not have detectable levels of pesticides. The highest levels were discovered on dried raisins, strawberries, cherries, apples, and raisins.

Evans says that fruit strips containing the most pesticides were often made with apples. Apples rank No. 5. On the "Dirty Dozen", the list of 2022 fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide use, 5 is the apple.

According to the study, the process of drying fruit for fruit leathers can also increase the amount of natural sugar contained in snacks. It results in more sugar than an equivalent-sized portion of fresh fruits. The group recommends that you avoid fruit leathers and dried fruits with additional sugar or additives like flavor enhancers, corn syrup, and food coloring.

Federal Regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency determines acceptable levels of pesticide residues from foods. National pesticide residue monitoring programs are provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data program.

Views from Other Points

"Nothing they found is surprising," says Kaci Buhl, an associate professor and director of the Pesticide Safety Education Program at Oregon State University Extension, Corvallis, who reviewed the report for WebMD.

According to her, the findings do not support the recommendation that fruit leathers should be avoided.

Buhl states that parents shouldn't be worried as long as they eat fruit leathers in moderation and as part of a balanced, varied diet. She also notes that organic produce can be grown using pesticides.

Other people pointed out discrepancies they observed in the calculations. One example: A That's It Blueberry Fruit Bar was 35 grams (1.25 ounces), and its total pesticide content was 3,541ppb. Its Mini Blueberry Fruit Bar (at 20 grams (0.75 ounces), had the exact same ingredients but had an average pesticide level of 89.

Buhl states that dried fruit snacks and fruit leather are particularly useful for those living far from the nearest food market.

Thorne states, "We must stop scaring people off of the food they love, particularly when it is healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables."

According to the alliance's consumer info site, the pesticide calculator calculates that a child can eat up to 340 apples per day with no adverse health effects. This is even if an apple contains the most pesticide residue as recorded by USDA.