Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes out with Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. The Dirty Dozen is the list of fruits and vegetables that have the highest level of pesticide residue on them and the Clean 15 is the list of fruits and vegetables that are lowest in pesticides. The 2011 lists were just released.
The Dirty Dozen: Apples, Celery, Strawberries and More
The Dirty Dozen includes a lot of popular fruits and vegetables. The 2011 list of produce with the most pesticides is:
- Nectarines – imported
- Grapes – imported
- Sweet bell peppers
- Blueberries – domestic
- Kale/collard greens
The items on the list have shifted over the years, with some moving up higher and some down lower, but for the most part they stay fairly consistent. The list unfortunately includes some of the least expensive and most accessible fruits and vegetables, such as apples and potatoes, and also includes some of the most delicious (I love my strawberries, peaches, blueberries and sweet bell peppers).
The Clean 15: Onions, Sweet Corn, Pineapples and More
I don’t have to lament the pesticide levels in the Dirty Dozen for too long, since some of my favorites are on the Clean 15 list too and many of them are luckily in season right now. The fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of pesticides are:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas
- Cantaloupe – domestic
- Sweet Potatoes
Shouldn’t People Buy Organic All the Time?
One of the most frequently asked questions about the list is why bother — i.e. shouldn’t people be buying organic all the time anyway? Certainly there are a lot of good reasons to buy organic all the time. As EWG explains in its FAQ: “Not only is it smart to reduce your exposure to pesticides, but buying organic sends a message that you support environmentally friendly farming practices that minimize soil erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife.”
However, EWG also recognizes that not everyone can afford to buy organic all the time, nor is organic produce always readily available in all areas. Ultimately, the list is intended to help consumers make educated choices and eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is still a better choice than eating processed food. Avoiding the dirty dozen is an easy step that can help people cut down the amount of pesticides that they are ingesting.
What Else Can People Do?
In addition to avoiding the dirty dozen, by not eating those types of fruits and vegetables or by buying them organic, there are other things that people can do. For example, people can plant their own gardens. This year we’ve chosen to plant several of the fruits and vegetables that we love from the dirty dozen list.
That is just the beginning. For more ideas see: Organic on the Cheap: 10 Strategies
UPDATE/NOTE: These Tests Are Done After Washing
A lot of poeple note that they wash their fruits and vegetables. Of course that is a good idea, however it doesn’t wash all of the pesticides away. The tests done for the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 are done after the produce is washed and prepared for eating.
As EWG explains in its FAQ:
“The data used to create the Shopper’s Guide are from produce tested as it is typically eaten. This means washed and, when applicable, peeled. For example, bananas are peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches are washed. Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis, washing a fruit or vegetable would not change its rank in the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide. Remember, if you don’t wash conventional produce, the risk of ingesting pesticides is even greater than reflected by USDA test data.”
Washing won’t get rid of the pesticides. If you want to avoid ingesting high levels of pesticides, you need to avoid buying conventional version of the Dirty Dozen or buy/grow organic.
Image credit: allyrose18 on flickr