The Dirty Dozen: 12 Fruits and Veggies That Could Be Harmful to Your Health

Here’s a look at this year’s Dirty Dozen: the top twelve produce items most likely to be harmful fromthe list put out annually by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

How does this work?

Every year the EWG comes out with its ranking of the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that,based on an analysis of 32,000 samples tested by the USDA and the FDA, are most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. It’s known as the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides In Produce.”

There is, of course, some controversy about whether higher pesticide levels actually lead to a higher safety risk.

Let’s look at just one example: In the United States, conventionally grown apples are commonly treated with DPA, a chemical that the European Union has banned. Here’s what Reuters reported on the uncertainty surrounding the chemical:

The EPA is required under the federal Food Quality Protection Act to conduct a scientific assessment of pesticides every 15 years. But the Environmental Protection Agency has not looked at DPA since the late 1990s.

In its last report, the EPA said DPA was “not likely” to be carcinogenic, but said diphenylnitrosamine an impurity of technical grade diphenylamine was classified as a probable human carcinogen based on increased incidence of bladder tumors in rats. The agency also expressed concern about the “structural relationship to carcinogenic nitrosamines.”

The European Union is of course far ahead of the U.S. in the required labeling of GMO food, so it’s not surprising that they have banned a chemical that is still used in the U.S.

EWG does, however, point out that “eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.”

The Dirty Dozen

Whatever you think of that opinion, here’s the top of the list for 2014, in order of the worst offenders first:

1. Apples
2. Strawberries
3. Grapes
4. Celery
5. Peaches
6. Spinach
7. Sweet bell peppers
8. Nectarines (imported)
9. Cucumbers
10. Cherry tomatoes
11. Snap peas (imported)
12. Potatoes

And in case you want some more specific details, the EWG site informs the consumer that:

  • Every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
  • A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

The Clean Fifteen

On the upside, the EWG also produces a list of the produce least likely to hold pesticide residues:

1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Frozen sweet peas
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwis
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet Potatoes

The EWG had this to say about the Clean Fifteen:

  • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
  • No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
  • Detecting multiple pesticide residues is extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.

So now, armed with EWG’s Shopper’s Guide, you can opt for those conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues. When you want foods whose conventional versions test high for pesticides, you can go for organic.

Or you can choose to go 100 percent organic and avoid worrying about those pesticides in the first place!

Photo Credit (all photos): Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome S4 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S4 months ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for sharing

Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for sharing

Diane Wayne
Diane Wayne11 months ago

Good article. I want all fruits and vegies to be pesticide free and GMO free. Let it be like the old days, the Pioneer days when farming was clean and natural NOW.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

No one gets out of life alive.

Margarita G.
Margarita G3 years ago


Chloe Yaw
Chloe Yaw3 years ago

Usually when I buy produce, the produce I eat the skin of tends to be organic. The ones I don't eat the skin of tend to not be organic. I know that while it may not prevent all of the pesticides from going into my body, at least a good portion of it doesn't.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

We always wash our fresh produce with castile soap.