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Safer Food Choices

tips for choosing and preparing food to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals

Why are toxic chemicals found in food?

child holding apple
Toxic chemicals such as mercury, dioxin, and PBDEs that remain in the environment for a long time build up in the fatty tissue of animals and fish, including those that people eat. Pesticides that are used in agriculture can remain on or in foods such as vegetables, fruits, and grains. 

How can you make safer choices for yourself and your family?

Make your meat lean

Choose lean meat cuts, and buy organic meats if possible.

Cut off visible fat before cooking meat and choose lower-fat cooking methods: broiling, grilling, roasting, or pressure-cooking.

Avoid frying meat in lard, bacon grease, or butter.

Limit dairy products high in fat

Choose low-fat, organic dairy products as much as possible.

Know your seafood

Fish is some of the healthiest food you can eat—choose it wisely.

Avoid bluefish, wild striped bass, American eel, spotted seatrout, marlin, king mackerel, shark, and swordfish. Women and children should not eat tilefish or tuna steaks, and should also limit their consumption of canned tuna.

Safer seafood choices include wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, Atlantic herring, Dungeness crab, Pacific cod, Alaskan black cod, farmed striped bass, tilapia, farmed catfish, clams, mussels, and Pacific oysters.

Check with state advisories before eating sport-caught fish or shellfish.

Seafood resources:

Washington State Department of Health: Fish Facts for Healthy Nutrition

Oceans Alive (Environmental Defense): Best and Worst Seafood

Environmental Working Group: Mercury in Seafood (includes Tuna Calculator)

Preparing Fish

When preparing fish, remove skin, trim the fat, and broil, bake, or grill fish so that the fat drips away.


Eat organic food as much as possible

Organic food is produced without the use of harmful chemical pesticides that can remain on or in food.

It’s especially important to buy organically grown peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. These items typically contain the highest levels of pesticide residues.

Also, wash produce well before preparing.

For more information on pesticides in produce, see:
Environmental Working Group: Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce