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I'm a father of a beautiful girl. She is 8 months old.

I started playing with an unpeeled orange, tossing it in the air and catching it. My little girl noticed it and wanted to examine the orange. Just when I was about to give it to her, my wife stopped me and said that I should not give the orange to the baby because the orange was dirty. I said, "OK, let's wash it and it should be OK". She washed the orange. Just when I was to give it to my little girl, my wife stopped me and said that I must not let my daughter lick the orange. I asked why. She said, "because it contains pesticides". I explained that we had just washed the orange thoroughly and that it was safe for playing. Then she said again that I must not let our daughter lick the orange and added that it can cause an allergic reaction. Of course my daughter wanted to put the big orange immediately in her mouth to examine it. I didn't want to argue with my wife so I put the orange away.

So, is it OK if an 8-month-old baby plays with an orange? Is it dangerous?

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    Possibly related (although dealing with peeled citrus fruit): Is citrus fruit safe for babies? – Acire Dec 6 '15 at 22:22
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    You don't want to trigger an outburst in front of the child, but it might be wise to say "we'll revisit this" and have a quiet talk when the child is in bed. In the talk you would say that a) oranges are safe and it is bad to frighten the child with fruit, and b) the conversation is over. Don't argue or persuade or justify; that conversation will continue until you lose your temper, which does far more harm than good. You can't persuade her, but it's not necessary to persuade her. It's only necessary for her to accept that you will use your own sound judgment regarding oranges. – Ed Plunkett Dec 8 '15 at 19:01
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    @EdPlunkett "the conversation is over" does that usually work for you? I once told my wife "that's it, go to bed" during an argument, and she barely stifled a laugh. – Jim W says reinstate Monica Dec 8 '15 at 19:29
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    I once noticed my child (at a year of age or so) eat an orange with peel and everything. She vomited it al out in her sleep. Not sure if the peel caused that or pesticides on it. She survived of course. Today (at the age of 4) she has not developed allergies to anything I know of. – Christiaan Westerbeek Dec 8 '15 at 21:16
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    @EdPlunkett: if you do that, you do of course have to accept the reverse situation, that down the line your partner will give the child permission to do things that you disagree with, knowing that you disagree, ignoring your disagreement, and refusing to let you speak about them. But if that's the way one partner wants to play it, of course the other cannot require consensus. – Steve Jessop Dec 9 '15 at 12:00
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First the orange is dirty. You solve that, and only then the orange has pesticides. You solve that, and only then does the orange cause allergies. You can bet that if you proved that oranges are hypoallergenic, there would have been another objection.

Your wife does not have a problem with the orange. Something else is going on.

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    This answer has nailed the real issue in this question. Of course oranges are OK to play with! Especially washed ones. Something else is going on. Something that would likely take determination and delicacy to fix! – GreenAsJade Dec 7 '15 at 10:25
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    Humans somehow survived before cleanliness was the rule. Nature prepared them to handle some dirt on their food. – user17408 Dec 8 '15 at 0:34
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    @nocomprende - that argument is banded around every time food hygiene is mentioned, but it fails on several counts. For one thing, we didn't evolve to handle pesticides. For another, we as animals were dealing with dirt every day - we're far more sensitive nowadays. And perhaps most importantly, ancient Man had ridiculously high death rates from bacterial infections from dirty food... "humanity" survived, sure, but average life expectancy was <30 years, let's not take their practices as our example. – Jon Story Dec 8 '15 at 9:51
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    Children put everything in their mouths, unless you are washing it all then why is the orange an exception? Personally I would give her a ball instead because otherwise you are adding confusion over the distinction between toys and food. – JamesRyan Dec 8 '15 at 11:39
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    @JamesRyan: There is a distinction between toys and food? My parents never taught me that! Grrr! – user17408 Dec 8 '15 at 12:50
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You should buy an organic orange - many citrus fruit are treated with fungicudes etc. to prevent mold in stores and during transport (we consumers benefit only by accident). There is a question over at Seasoned Advice that discusses whether they may be washed off.

That said, if you give your child a washed organic orange - under supervision, of course - I see no reason how this would harm her.
The fear of allergies is imho only warranted if the medical history in the family suggests it and current trends about baby food are that small amounts of different foods are considered beneficial. Note that you are not feeding her the orange (and some children don't tolerate acid fruit or juices well), but if she playfully bites into the fruit she will simply experience some "new" taste. The stimulus of the taste, smell and tactile sensation could actually be good for her.

  • And probably if she bites into it she won't do it again - children typically find the taste far too tart :-) – Rory Alsop Dec 6 '15 at 10:07
  • @RoryAlsop And the taste of the peel far too bitter. – David Richerby Dec 6 '15 at 12:42
  • The peel is what we are taking about here :-) – Rory Alsop Dec 6 '15 at 12:43
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Acire Dec 7 '15 at 20:08
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    One catch here is that 'organic pesticides' (such as rotenone, pyrethrin) are relatively unstudied from a health perspective, mainly because many folks associate 'organic' with 'safe'. The term 'organic' in the food industry means 'from natural sources', but there are plenty of organic dangers out there. (No polemic intended other than the popular interpretation of the word organic as automatically good or safe.) – copper.hat Dec 8 '15 at 17:46
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If you ask me, except if taken out of the dustbin, or if it rolled on a dirty floor, or if you are travelling in a country with different bacteria, oranges are ok to play with and even touch with mouth. If there is a little doubt or objection from the mother, rinsing it should be enough.

Also, there is an elephant in the room here, or two. Firstly, you should not let your wife forbid something and confront you so strongly in front of the kids. That's not doing any good to them. Better do it when kids do not hear. Parents must "agree together" even when they don't.

Secondly, being too paranoid about dirtyness, bacteria, allergies, chemicals, etc., is also bad for the kids. One of the most important thing to build for toddlers is self-confidence. You do not get this if the world around you is full of hidden dangers, like an orange able to jump at your throath and poison you. So, I'd say, remove anything that is really dangerous (like these toilet cleaning chemicals) from the grasp of the kids, and let almost everything else be almost ok, even if it may hurt a bit.

Fear is something we have in our genes, fear of darkness, fear of strangers, fear of unknown foods, etc. I do not think we need to add too many fears to the arsenal (except maybe fear of moving cars). Instead we need to untangle these fears in our kids: nowadays, the probability to meet a wolf in the night is quite low, usually.

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    Re your third paragraph: The question here is about pesticides and/or allergen potential of an item, not dirt and bacteria -- does the hygiene hypothesis still apply? – Acire Dec 7 '15 at 11:24
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    I find the idea that parents must "agree together" strange. Real people don't always agree! Resolving disagreements is far more useful than not having them. I think it also tends to result in an "us against them" mentality between parents and children. – Scott Morrison Dec 8 '15 at 7:49
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    We are talking about little children here. Resolving disagreements can be educative for 15 years old, but I would avoid it below 5. – Guillaume Dec 8 '15 at 8:59
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    I disagree very strongly with the suggestion that you should present a united front to children. My wife and I make a point of discussing our disagreements together with the children (3 and 5), even when the subject is rules or discipline. I believe this helps them to understand how people can overcome their differences and also lets them understand the reasons for the rules that we set for them. We do emphasize presenting a united front in actually enforcing the decisions that we make, but that doesn't mean we hide the process of arriving at consensus from the children. – AmericanUmlaut Dec 9 '15 at 5:22
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    @AmericanUmlaut let's discuss this in a better place: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/23377/… – Guillaume Dec 15 '15 at 2:54
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Nice question.

I think the fear of an allergic reaction is unwarranted, unless you have seen symptoms indicating that your daughter might be allergic to something. If you fear she might be allergic to oranges and therefore don't want her to lick them, you would have to keep her from everything else, too, because people can have strong and dangerous allergic reactions to basically everything. But since you probably find the completely safe way of testing every substance first before you let your child have unprotected contact with it unpractical, there is no reason why she should be forbidden oranges but allowed to play in the grass. There are other foods than oranges that more commonly cause allergic reactions (like nuts or milk).

As for the pesticides, the "official" recommendation is to wash oranges in warm water before you peel them and to wash your hands after peeling and before you eat them, because they are so heavily treated with poisonous or carcinogenic chemicals, so I guess the best way is to go and buy an organic orange for your daughter to play with. But then, maybe you should begin to think of your own health, since obviously you haven't yet worried about all the chemicals that you have been ingesting from not washing your food nor your hands, while a few minutes of licking an unwashed orange certainly won't do any harm to your child. The few molecules she would have ingested are harmless, but the buckets full that have collected in your system over your lifetime are certainly dangerous. In other words, I wouldn't worry about poisoning my child, I'd rather worry about my whole family eating well. If I can eat it, then my child can lick it. Keeping my kids from things I eat myself seems inconsistent. (Yes, I don't drink alcohol.)

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Just do a risk-reward analysis. What is the risk of your daughter playing with one orange once and what is the added benefit of fun and learning with playing with an orange? Many people are ignorant of the chemicals (scary) that are used as pesticides. Even if they are toxic or carcinogenic, they often degrade very quickly, and don't forget the dose makes the poison. Oranges are one of the most toxic laden foods you can buy. That said, your child will be exposed to more poisonous and carcinogenic materials by simply being at a gas station while you fill your car than a lifetime of oranges can provide. Don't let this lead to a lifetime of overparenting, what's life if you spend every moment maximizing survival?

  • So "it's dangerous but who cares?" I'm not sure if I understand. – Acire Dec 6 '15 at 21:25
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    No, its meant to convey thats the level of risk is so imeasurably small that its indestinguishable from zero. – The Thrifty Engineer Dec 6 '15 at 21:31
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    IE even the most toxin laden food you can buy is safer than sitting in the car at the gas station. IE the most toxic laden food you can buy is safe anyhow. Shielding a child from an orange doesn't maximise their survival... it deprives them of experiences growing and learning that they need for later. – GreenAsJade Dec 7 '15 at 10:27
  • The risk is not any health risk from the orange (there is no significant risk here) but rather a risk of upsetting the child, hurting their confidence, making them reluctant to explore and learn, etc. – R.. Dec 9 '15 at 0:05
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Citrus fruit are commonly waxed in order to extend their transport and shelf life. For baking recipes calling for orange peels or grated lemon skin, you need to specifically buy unwaxed fruit. So that's the most likely agent to get into your baby's mouth. Of course, they cannot really use known poisons here, and the wax tends to be bitter and will stop the baby from indulging too much anyway. So I'd not worry about it.

With regard to allergies, it's not helpful to stop kids from ingesting dirt. The longer one waits with exposure to substances, the more likely they will be recognized as foreign and attacked by the immune system.

So you are not doing your kid any favors from having it avoid contact to organic substances that can lead to allergic reactions. It's usually quite early enough to think about stopping exposure once problems become apparent.

With regard to the situation, it is obvious that your wife made a decision and was not letting you change her mind about it, so counterarguments were made up on the fly. Better not argue her into corners if you find out how to avoid it since she might insist staying in worse corners than this particular one.

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    I agree, the issue is the mother's response, not the baby. Good luck with that! – user17408 Dec 8 '15 at 18:22
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Your wife is correct to be concerned about the pesticides and other filth on the skins of oranges. Sadly, most food these days is produced on large corporate-industrial plantations that use enormous amounts of chemicals and store/transport foods in rat-infested, disgusting conditions. You should validate her concerns about health, instead of telling her that she is "worrying too much", etc. This will make it less likely to turn into an argument.

However, it's also very important that you encourage your child's curiousity about the world - especially when it is curiousity about healthy foods! Purchase organic oranges, and wash the orange well with hot soapy water, and then let her play with it. She will learn to appreciate the taste, and will probably learn a new color too!

  • Because there is a lot of misinformation being spread in other answers/comments here about organic oranges being just as bad as "conventional" oranges, I really encourage you to check out the following data on pesticide residues on oranges (the data is from the USDA pesticide data program): whatsonmyfood.org/food.jsp?food=OG – J. Taylor Dec 7 '15 at 19:43
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    Being concerned is one thing, but blanket blocking anything because "they might be allergic" is irrational. You should emphatically not validate that behaviour, because it is a very damaging form of parenting. – Graham Dec 8 '15 at 14:58
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    I wasn't suggesting validating blanket banning of foods due to fear of allergies (I agree that it would be harmful to not let a child play with fruit because you were afraid they might be allergic to one of them). I suggested validating the parts that were valid - the concerns about pesticides and food-borne illness. – J. Taylor Dec 8 '15 at 16:24
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    @Graham there is a distinction between validating concern (I understand you are worried about citrus allergies, let's read up on that and watch baby carefully as she plays with the fruit) and validating behavior (e.g., banning all possible allergy triggers). – Acire Dec 8 '15 at 16:44
  • @Erica Agreed, although there are a multitude of possible allergy triggers in the world, so micro-focussing on one is not rational either. The OP's scenario does not describe concern though - for me it clearly describes manufacturing justifications to fit an irrational objection. (Yes I do recognise that this could be seen as sexist in the scenario, but I would honestly say the same if the genders were reversed.) I would be more interested in knowing where this objection came from. – Graham Dec 9 '15 at 10:53

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