A recent Consumer Reports study revealed that 85% of those surveyed were concerned about pesticide use. And consumers are also confused about the complex issues of food production and pesticide use. A number of questions emerge.

How risky are pesticides? What does research indicate about pesticides and human health? What does “organic” mean? What does “conventionally grown” mean? How do pesticides play into this? What is the difference between synthetic and natural pesticides? What are some rules to shop by? And should consumers always buy organic? (Organics cost, on average, about 49% more than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, per CR).

Consumer Reports has published a comprehensive piece on pesticides in produce. Its guidelines will empower consumers to make the best choices for health and the environment. It also includes some helpful charts and “cheat sheets” to help you in the produce section. Bonus? Food prep tips to cut your exposure to pesticides…and up your food safety ante overall. CR has also produced a more in-depth report, From Crop to Table.

Some good news from CR?

There’s data to show that residues on produce have actually declined since 1996, when Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act. This law requires that the EPA ensure that levels of pesticides on food are safe for children and infants.

Every year, the Department of Agriculture tests for pesticide residues on a variety of produce. In its latest report, more than half of the samples had residues, with the majority coming in below the EPA tolerance levels. “Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are very safe,” says Teresa Thorne, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Food and Farming, an organization that represents growers of conventional and organic produce.

It’s important to note, however, that while progress has been made for some types of produce, other items remain problematic. And more than one pesticide is often used in the production of fruits and vegetables, but the tolerance levels are calculated only on individual pesticides.

Another key message?

The risks of pesticides are real, but the myriad health benefits of fruits and vegetables are, too. A 2012 study estimated that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption could prevent 20,000 cancer cases annually, and 10 cases of cancer per year could be attributed to consumption of pesticides from the additional produce. Another study found that people who ate produce at least three times per day had a lower risk of stroke, hypertension, and death from cardiovascular disease.