The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
Every year for the past nine years, the Environmental Working Group has published their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ based on tests for pesticide residue conducted by the USDA and FDA. EWG specifically highlights "The Dirty Dozen™": produce likely to have a higher level of pesticide residue, which they recommend avoiding or purchasing organic. For the last couple years, EWG has expanded their Dirty Dozen™ list with a Plus category resulting in "The Dirty Dozen Plus™". The "Plus" refers to crops that do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but that were commonly contaminated with exceptionally toxic pesticides. Consumers should prioritize purchasing organic versions of these vegetables as well if possible. The produce with the least residue is termed "The Clean Fifteen™."
Use the The Dirty Dozen™ to Prioritize Purchases
This guide is not intended to scare you into not buying fruits and vegetables. Any produce is better than no produce. And conventional fruit and vegetables are certainly better than processed or packaged foods. Instead, this information is intended to help families who cannot afford to purchase all organic produce limit their exposure to pesticides, especially harmful to developing fetuses and young children. You can use the guide to substitute produce from The Clean Fifteen™ for The Dirty Dozen Plus™ (for example, I might decide our family will eat more kiwi and fewer apples), or use the guide to help you decide which produce you will buy organic and which you will buy conventional (for example, I might buy organic strawberries and conventional onions). When I first started going green, I found that selectively purchasing organic produce helped a lot with the sticker shock of switching to greener foods.
The 2013 Dirty Dozen Plus™ (starting with the worst/ dirtiest)
- apples - the dirtiest of the Dirty Dozen™
- sweet bell peppers
- imported nectarines
- cherry tomatoes
- hot peppers
- PLUS: Kale/ Collard Greens
- PLUS: Summer squash (zucchini, yellow crookneck squash)
- sweet corn - the cleanest of the Clean Fifteen™
- sweet peas frozen
- sweet potatoes
Note that the Dirty Dozen™ are all produce with thin edible skins, whereas the Clean Fifteen™ tend to be fruits and vegetables with thick skins you don't eat (pineapples, avocado, onions, melons). If you are avoiding GMO foods, EWG also recommends purchasing only organically-grown sweet corn (small fraction GMO), zucchini (small fraction GMO), and Hawaiian papaya (almost all GMO). In the US, GMO foods do not have to be labeled, but most produce (with the aforementioned exceptions) is not.
Other Helpful Tips
- Eat fruits and vegetables! Any fruit, even fruit with pesticides, is better than no fruit. Remember that eating fruits and vegetables is much better than eating processed and packaged foods.
- Think twice about buying conventional baby food. EWG reports that "results remained troubling for some baby foods purchased in American stores in 2011." For example, green beans tested positive for especially toxic organophosphates and perhaps even more troubling, pear samples tested positive for 11 pesticides including a probably carcinogen not registered for use on pears. To save money on baby food, consider making your own with organic ingredients.
- Learn how to minimize exposure to toxins on any budget. Check out EWG's useful guide Good Food on a Tight Budget, which describes 100 nutrient-rich foods at a good price, with the fewest pesticides, contaminants and artificial ingredients.
Further reading from Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
The Full List
Methodology and Highlights
Frequently Asked Questions, such as
- Agribusiness claims pesticide residues are safe. Are they right?
- What if I wash and peel my fruits and vegetables?