Pesticides In Our Food: This Year's "Dirty Dozen" Produce to Avoid

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Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates pesticide levels in produce and releases their "Dirty dozen" list of the most pesticide-laden foods on the market. Thankfully, it's not all bad news- they also come up with the "Clean Fifteen," a series of foods that contain the least amount of detectable pesticides.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed with all the foods we're told we shouldn't eat, which is why we don't recommended avoiding the Dirty Dozen altogether. Just make sure to buy the USDA certified, organic versions of these items whenever possible. This way, you ensure minimal pesticide ingestion and a reduced risk of the negative health affects that these chemicals are known to have on the human body . 

Parents of children should be especially careful to feed their young ones organic or Clean Fifteen foods. Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that children are particularly susceptible to the impacts of pesticide ingestion, including an increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Other conditions linked to pesticide exposure include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease, among others. 

So, how does EWG go about creating these lists? Each year, EWG scientists focus on 48 popular fruits and vegetables and analyze around 32,000 samples tested by the FDA and USDA. EWG analysts then rank the produce using 6 metrics, including the number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides. According to the latest report, 65% of the samples tested positive for pesticide residues.

Here's the list:

Dirty Dozen Plus

Note: As of 2015, non-organic apples have earned the highest ranking for pesticide contamination 5 years in a row!

1. Apples
2. Peaches
3. Nectarines
4. Strawberries
5. Grapes
6. Celery
7. Spinach
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Cucumbers
10. Cherry Tomatoes
11. Snap Peas (Imported)
12. Potatoes
*Hot Peppers
*Kale/Collard Greens

*Kale, collard greens, and hot peppers were found to have insecticides that are extremely toxic to human health, hence the updated title "Dirty Dozen Plus."

Clean 15 

These produce picks contained the lowest pesticide levels. 

1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwi
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet Potatoes

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Not So Fun Facts

  • A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides!!!
  • The average potato has more pesticides by weight than any other food.
  • Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, and strawberries tested positive for 13 different pesticides apiece.

Fun Facts

  • Only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides!
  • 89% of pineapples, 82% of kiwi, 80% of papayas, 88% of mango, and 61% of cantaloupe had no pesticide residues.
"For decades, various toxic pesticides were claimed to be 'safe' … until they weren't, and were either banned or phased out because they posed risks to people... While regulators and scientists debate these and other controversies about pesticide safety, EWG will continue drawing attention to the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide loads." 

-Sonya Lunder, EWG's senior analyst