EWG's 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

EWG updates this their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce every year 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. They produce with the least residue is termed "The Clean Fifteen." If you can't afford to purchase all organic produce, this guide can help you prioritize which produce to buy organic. I now shop for almost all my produce through the farmer's market and my CSA, but when I first started going green, I picked and chose what to buy organic. I felt fine about buying conventional onions and melons, but only bought organic greens, grapes, and berries. It helped with the sticker shock.

The 2012 Dirty Dozen:
  • apples
  • celery
  • sweet bell peppers
  • peaches
  • strawberries
  • nectarines (imported)
  • grapes
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • cucumbers
  • blueberries (domestic)
  • potatoes

On a single sample, grapes and bell peppers had as many as 15 different pesticides detected; blueberries, strawberries, and celery each had as many as 13. 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). The EWG report also specifically recommended avoiding conventional green beans and leafy greens (kale and collards) because of their high levels of organophosphates, a group of pesticides EWG calls "of special concern" which have mostly (but not entirely) been phased out.

This year, for the first time, the USDA also looked at pesticide residue in baby food. One of EWG's findings:
Disturbingly, the pesticide iprodione, which EPA has categorized as a probable human carcinogen, was detected on three baby food pear samples. Iprodione is not registered with EPA for use on pears. Its presence on this popular baby food constitutes a violation of FDA regulations and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
It can be tough to fork over the extra dough each and every week for organic produce. I loved this quote from Dr. Harvey Karp (in an interview with Healthy Child Healthy World) that offers an enlightening perspective on the higher cost of avoiding toxins like pesticides:
Sometimes people complain about how expensive those safer choices can be. But I encourage parents to look at it as their legacy to future generations. We live in a world where our grandparents paid for the interstate highway, major airports, telecommunications infrastructure. We inherited those things based on their investment into creating a new world. Our gift to our grandchildren is building a marketplace that will be healthier for them. Yes, it’s costing us money. And time. And it complicates our lives sometimes. But we’re paying it forward so our grandchildren will look back and say, ‘Was it really true that there were toxic chemicals in canned food and fresh fruits vegetables, and toys?’ My hope is that it will be unbelievable to them that it could ever have been so.

Further reading:
The Full List (full list as a PDF)
  • Agribusiness claims pesticide residues are safe. Are they right? 
  • Do all these pesticides mean I shouldn't eat fruits and vegetables? 
  • What if I wash and peel my fruits and vegetables?


  1. Thanks for posting this -- it's always good to see what they've added or moved around (like cucumbers -- isn't that a new one?). I also really liked the quote from Dr. Karp -- whenever people tell me that they can't justify paying more for certain organic things, I can't help but think (to myself, of course), "But you can afford all the negative side effects?"

    One question: I'm totally confused about the organophosphate thing. I mean, I grow organic green beans. Are they bad? And organic leafy greens are bad, but they say you should buy organic lettuce and spinach. So organic foods still have pesticides? Sigh...just when I thought I had the organic eating thing figured out... :)

    1. So sorry for the confusion -- CONVENTIONAL green beans and leafy greens are to be avoided. I changed the wording above to be less confusing. What I meant was avoid OR buy organic. Cucumbers were 14 last year. Can't find my 2010 list.

    2. Ahhhh, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying!


Have something to say? Please leave a comment!
I read all comments and try to respond to questions in a timely manner.
Comments are now moderated due to spam overload and have to be approved (by me) - so don't worry if your comment does not appear immediately after you publish it.


© 2008-2020 Eco-novice: Going Green Gradually All Rights Reserved

Copyright © Eco-novice | Powered by Blogger

Design by Anders Noren | Blogger Theme by NewBloggerThemes.com