One of the the biggest challenges of staying healthy and planning our meals is figuring out which ingredients to choose in the first place, especially when it comes to fresh produce. We know that it’s important to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, but it can be a real headache to decipher which products to choose, how they were grown, their nutritional value, and the amount of synthetic chemical pesticides used in the growing process. Investigating the growing practices of all the farmers at the local green market isn’t always possible, and purchasing exclusively organic produce can be cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable where we live.
To help us determine which fresh fruits and veggies are more worthwhile to buy organic, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts together an annual “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” highlighting the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists, which highlight the levels of pesticide residues present on conventionally-grown produce.
The EWG’s high-level finding is that 70% of all produce samples analyzed were contaminated with some level of pesticide residue. If we rank the pesticide contaminated produce, we would find that the 12 crops with the most pesticide residues are these “Dirty Dozen”:
- Strawberries (almost 99% samples had at least 1 detectable pesticide)
- Pears (doubled in pesticide residue since 2010 from 0.6 parts per million to 1.3 parts per million)
- Sweet bell peppers
Ninety-eight percent of samples of the top six crops on this year’s Dirty Dozen list (strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries and apples) tested positive for at least one type of pesticide. There aren’t too many major differences between last year’s list and this year’s list. Strawberries still hold the #1 spot; the EWG’s findings show the presence of 20 different pesticides on strawberries. This comes at no surprise: Americans consume up to eight pounds of fresh strawberries each year, so demand is high, yet delicate strawberries grow low to the soil and tend to be very susceptible to a host of pests. This year, spinach moved up to the #2 spot, compared to the #8 spot it held last year. Another notable change is that pears and potatoes were added to this year’s list, displacing cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
The Clean Fifteen contrasts the Dirty Dozen by listing the fifteen crops with the lowest overall load of pesticide residues. All the crops on this year’s Clean 15 are the same as last year’s list, the only major change being that avocados and sweet corn swapped places for the #1 spot:
- Sweet corn (only 1% of samples showed any detectable pesticides)
- Avocados (only 1% of samples showed any detectable pesticides)
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew Melon
The biggest takeaway from this report is to not let fear of pesticide residues detract you from eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, which are full of health benefits that far outweigh the costs. Use tools like the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list to guide your decisions when purchasing conventional or organic, and prioritize buying products from small, local farms with transparent growing practices.
Want to go one step further? See the whole list of 48 fruits and vegetables and how they rank here.