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.
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)
- Kale, collard & mustard greens
- Bell & Hot Peppers
Key takeaways from the study done in the spring of this year were as follows:
"More than 90% of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and grapes tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides. Kale, collard and mustard greens, as well as hot peppers and bell peppers, had the most pesticides detected, 103 and 101 pesticides in total, respectively. And on average, spinach samples had 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop tested."
On the flipside, The Clean Fifteen contrasts the Dirty Dozen by listing the fifteen crops with the lowest overall load of pesticide residues. Here's the produce that made this years list:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
"Almost 70 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no detectable pesticide residues.
Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest produce – less than 2 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides. Just under 5 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had residues of two or more pesticides. The first six Clean Fifteen items tested positive for just three or fewer pesticides per sample."
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.
*This post was updated in June of 2022 from it's original copy