Removal of pesticide residues from fresh produce is important to reduce pesticide exposure to humans. This study investigated the effectiveness of commercial and homemade washing agents in the removal of surface and internalized pesticide residues from apples. Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) mapping and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) methods were used to determine the effectiveness of different washing agents in removing pesticide residues. Surface pesticide residues were most effectively removed by sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, NaHCO3) solution when compared to either tap water or Clorox bleach. Using a 10 mg/mL NaHCO3 washing solution, it took 12 and 15 min to completely remove thiabendazole or phosmet surface residues, respectively, following a 24 h exposure to these pesticides, which were applied at a concentration of 125 ng/cm2. LC-MS/MS results showed, however, that 20% of applied thiabendazole and 4.4% of applied phosmet had penetrated into the apples following the 24 h exposure. Thiabendazole, a systemic pesticide, penetrated 4-fold deeper into the apple peel than did phosmet, a non-systemic pesticide, which led to more thiabendazole residues inside the apples, which could not be washed away using the NaHCO3 washing solution. This study gives us the information that the standard postharvest washing method using Clorox bleach solution for 2 min is not an effective means to completely remove pesticide residues on the surface of apples. The NaHCO3 method is more effective in removing surface pesticide residues on apples. In the presence of NaHCO3, thiabendazole and phosmet can degrade, which assists the physical removal force of washing. However, the NaHCO3 method was not completely effective in removing residues that have penetrated into the apple peel. The overall effectiveness of the method to remove all pesticide residues diminished as pesticides penetrated deeper into the fruit. In practical application, washing apples with NaHCO3 solution can reduce pesticides mostly from the surface. Peeling is more effective to remove the penetrated pesticides; however, bioactive compounds in the peels will become lost too.
Keywords: SERS; apple; pesticides; washing.