Is it worth the extra cost to buy organic produce? According to the Environmental Working Group, if you buy organic for the twelve fruits and vegetables on its Dirty Dozen list, you can reduce your pesticide exposure by almost ninety-two percent. If you can’t buy all organic, they suggest prioritizing your purchases by buying organic where it counts the most.

The Dirty Dozen (fruits and vegetables with lower numbers test for more pesticide residues)

  1. strawberries
  2. spinach
  3. nectarines
  4. apples
  5. peaches
  6. pears
  7. cherries
  8. grapes
  9. celery
  10. tomatoes
  11. sweet bell peppers
  12. potatoes

Strawberries are listed as the most contaminated produce (replacing apples, which are now listed as number four). The USDA reports that strawberries tested for an average of 7.7 different pesticides per sample, as compared to 2.3 different pesticides per sample for all other produce in the “Dirty Dozen” list. Ninety-nine percent of all strawberry samples tested for residue of at least one pesticide… twenty-nine percent tested for residues of ten or more… and some samples tested for as many as twenty-one different pesticides. Seventy-four different pesticides in various combinations are routinely used in strawberry fields.

Almost all (up to 98 percent) of spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries, apples, and strawberry samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. Spinach had the most pesticides by weight.

The EWG lists special warnings for hot peppers because they contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. People who eat a lot of hot peppers are urged to buy organic.

The vegetables on the “Clean 15” list rarely test for multiple pesticides, and only 5 percent of the tested samples had two or more. All fruit samples on this list tested for four or fewer types of pesticides.

Only one percent of avocados and sweet corn tested showed any detectable pesticide residue. More than eighty percent of cabbage, asparagus, pineapples, and papayas had no pesticide residue.

The Clean 15 (lower number equals least pesticide residues)

  1. sweet corn
  2. avocados
  3. pineapples
  4. cabbage
  5. onions
  6. sweet peas (frozen)
  7. papayas
  8. asparagus
  9. mangos
  10. eggplant
  11. honeydew melon
  12. kiwi
  13. cantaloupe
  14. cauliflower
  15. grapefruit

If you’re curious about fruits and vegetables that are not included in the “Dirty Dozen” or “Clean 15” lists, here is the EWG’s analysis of the fifty-one fruits and vegetables that the USDA tested for pesticide residue.

Complete List of 51 Fruits & Vegetables
Produce is ranked from “worst” to “best”… the lower the number, the more pesticides in the produce.

  1. strawberries
  2. spinach
  3. nectarines
  4. apples
  5. peaches
  6. pears
  7. cherries
  8. grapes
  9. celery
  10. tomatoes
  11. sweet bell peppers
  12. potatoes
  13. cucumbers
  14. cherry tomatoes
  15. lettuce
  16. snap peas (imported)
  17. blueberries (domestic)
  18. hot peppers
  19. kale/collard greens
  20. blueberries (imported)
  21. green beans (domestic)
  22. plums
  23. tangerines
  24. raspberries
  25. carrots
  26. winter squash
  27. oranges
  28. summer squash
  29. green beans (imported)
  30. snap peas (domestic)
  31. bananas
  32. green onions
  33. watermelon
  34. mushrooms
  35. sweet potatoes
  36. broccoli
  37. grapefruit
  38. cauliflower
  39. cantaloupes
  40. kiwi
  41. honeydew melon
  42. eggplant
  43. mangos
  44. asparagus
  45. papayas
  46. sweet peas (frozen)
  47. onions
  48. cabbage
  49. pineapples
  50. avocados
  51. sweet corn

The research used to develop these lists assumes that the produce is rinsed or peeled. Unfortunately, rinsing produce reduces but does not eliminate pesticides, and there often are many nutrients in the peel. The EWG’s suggestion is to “eat a varied diet, rinse all produce, and buy organic when possible.”

Note: Some sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash is grown from genetically modified seeds. If you want to avoid genetically modified produce, buy these organically grown.


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Comments

Diane

wow.. that is just so cool! for someone like me that has a hard time affording organic, but is very concerned about pesticides, a list like this is pure gold!
thank you so much☺

Jana

I wish I could grow my own food but I live in a 6th floor apartment right in the city. I have tried the container gardening route and despite what the advisors say it is impossible to grow enough food in containers. I would like to eat only organic but I can’t afford to do that. Many of the items we eat the most often are on the dirty dozen list. I’m glad to know this information but I don’t know what to do with it.

Ruthanne

It’s getting harder and harder just to eat. My little girl was diagnosed with soy allergy so I have been trying to work around that. I’m very concerned about pesticide residues and I really appreciate these lists and this information.

Jo

Obviously we can’t grow oranges or grapefruit in Maine, but I substitute rose hips (jam) for the vitamin C content. I also try to grow fresh greens in season and pick wild berries. I do not eat corn because most of it now is genetically modified and I don’t have room to grow it. We eat lots of onions and garlic, so that’s good to know onions are “safe”. Tomatoes I grow, Mortgage lifters, and cucumbers for eating and pickles. I am going to have to find a good organic potato – I could eat them three meals a day and never tire of them in any form.
You gave me a good idea. I think I will add a strawberry patch next year. I love to pick them at a farm not too far from here but they are not organic.
I still do not understand why organic produce is so much more expensive than pesticide laden food. Must be more labor intensive, I guess. But good, clean and wholesome food should be a right for all, not just for those with deep pockets.

Bette

What disturbs me the most about these lists is that the organization peeled and washed the produce before doing their pesticide tests. I always thought I was avoiding the problem by peeling and washing. I would like to buy organic produce but there is no way I could ever afford it so I guess I’ll try to avoid as many of the Dirty Dozen as I can.

Dmarie

ooh, I have a half-peck of non-organic peaches on the counter now! I wanted to support my local orchard, but they don’t produce anything organic and only sell a few organic foodstuffs. So, the local vs. organic conundrum continues for me! *sigh*

Tara

Thank you for the complete list! One great positive that is coming out of these types of studies being so heavily publicized is that people are becoming more and more interested and discerning about where their food comes from from how it’s grown and where it comes from to the additives in commercially packaged foods. The more people pay attention the more strides will be made. Not being able to afford or find organics easily is changing little by little with the education of consumers.

jl

Great to see this extremely useful information, sending along to my friends.

Paul

I find it surprising that these lists are published without disclosing the fact that GMO is not taken into consideration. Commercial corn, for instance, can be grown using few pesticides if it has been genetically altered to survive a variety of attacks using methods that include producing toxins that kill pests.

Often under pressure from producers with political and financial clout, under-funded government regulatory agencies will declare a food fit for human consumption sometimes with only a year or two of research which is often sponsored by the producers themselves. It is, at best, quietly mumbled about when they discover their mistake years or decades later.