Just about everyone should eat more fruits and vegetables. However, a great deal of produce is contaminated with pesticides. Consumers can learn how to make the healthiest choices by reviewing the Environmental Working Group’s annual list of the dirtiest and cleanest fruits and vegetables available in the supermarket.
Apples win the crown, again
Eight years running, the Environmental Working Group makes headlines with its annual Shoppers Guide. A regular feature of the EWG Shoppers Guide is the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of the most pesticide-laden fruit and vegetables in the U.S. food supply. This year apples are at the top of the Dirty Dozen list for the second year in a row. But there’s also good news: the “Clean 15” list of produce with the lowest pesticide load.
New for 2012 is the “Dirty Dozen Plus” category that includes green beans and leafy greens that don’t meet all the contamination factors, yet are often tainted with organophosphates. Organophosphates—pesticides that are toxic to the nervous system—are being phased out of wide use but are still used on some crops because they have not been banned.
Ranking pesticide exposure
To establish the rankings, EWG researchers analyze data collected by the USDA and FDA on the pesticide loads of the 45 most popular fruit and vegetable crops. To more accurately record the pesticide residue likely ingested by consumers, the government washes and peals the produce before it’s tested.
For each fruit or vegetable crop, researchers factor in the total pesticide load, as well as how many individual samples test positive, how many samples have more than two detectable pesticides, the concentration of the detected pesticides and the highest number of different pesticides found in a single sample.
Organic produce recommended
Pesticides detected in the produce on the Dirty Dozen list have been identified as potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Organophosphates have been linked to developmental delays in children. Even so, the EWG wrote that the health benefits of eating more fruit and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.
The researchers recommend buying organically grown produce. But organic produce is more expensive. To stretch your budget, the EWG suggests buying organic versions of the Dirty Dozen and conventionally grown produce from the Clean 15.
The Dirty Dozen
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
The Clean 15
Fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels or no detectable levels of pesticide residue:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Cantaloupe (domestic)
- Sweet potatoes