- The environmental working group (EWG) updated the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists earlier this year. Data from the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) was analyzed to assess pesticide residues on popular fresh produce items. A total of 48 foods are ranked from worst to best with the foods with the highest number of pesticide residues placed on the Dirty Dozen list and the cleanest foods and lowest number of pesticide residues on the Clean Fifteen list.
Dirty Dozen list includes strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. According to the EWG, highlights from the review include: a single grape may contain up to 15 different pesticides, strawberry samples showed 17 different pesticides, and 98% of peaches, nectarines, and apples had at least 1 pesticide residue.
Clean Fifteen items included avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, honeydew melon, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and cauliflower. Highlights of the Clean Fifteen review include: only 5.5% of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides, greater than 60% of cantaloupes, kiwis, mangoes, papayas, and pineapples had no pesticide residues, and only 1% of avocados had any pesticides.
So what? If you are wondering why all of this is important, it is because pesticides are very bad for us! Pesticides are used to kill living organisms such as insects and plants that may get in the way of crop production. According to the EWG pesticides have been linked to many scary health conditions such as brain and nervous system problems, cancer, hormone disruption, and skin, eye and lung irritation. Why we don’t know the exact effects of pesticides on people, limiting consumption of these toxic chemicals is important for human health.
What can I do?
- Re-think Dirty Dozen foods: Prioritize buying strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers that are USDA certified organic. It is not recommended to avoid these fruits and vegetables all together as there are many health benefits from these foods as well. For more additional information on going organic click here.
- Choose the Clean Fifteen: Buy conventional versions of avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, honeydew melon, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and cauliflower. If budget issues are a concern, buy these produce items conventional to save a little money or make up for spending a little extra on organic dirty dozen foods.
- Buy local and shop farmer’s markets whenever possible. Ask the farmer directly about production methods and pesticide use. For more on local farmer’s markets click here.
- Wash and dry produce before eating it. In addition, always wash produce with a peel to avoid contamination from the peel.
- Visit the Environmental Working Group for additional information and download your own EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.