The Dirty Dozen: Which Produce Has the Most Pesticide Residue?

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:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines – imported
  7. Grapes – imported
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries – domestic
  11. Lettuce
  12. 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:

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Cantaloupe – domestic
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet Potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

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.

Related stories:

The Rising Popularity of Vegetable Gardens

USDA Stop Funding Pro-Pesticide Groups

Finger Lake Farm: From Idea to Viable Business

Image credit: allyrose18 on flickr


William C
William C10 months ago

Thank you.

Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Liling O4 years ago

Even organic labels do lied nowadays!

The best reliable method is ,either grow some of your favourite fruits or vegetables in your backyard or garden, which of course is a lot of hard work
Or buy the seasoned fresh produce from a reliable local farmer

Phyl M.
Dai M5 years ago

As a vegetarian, it is hard to avoid these pesticides & bad GMO foods...but I really can not afford organics.

Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence6 years ago

scary, scary stuff.. yuck!

Erick M.
Eri Meis6 years ago

GMO Corn is safe? Most processed foods have GMO High Frutose CORN Syrup in them, as well as 95% of Soybeans which make up the low cost vegitable protein as well. And strawberries... the ground is "gassed" before it is planted to reduce insects. Same with melons... This is just the tip of Big Agricultural Business. Thanks for the nothing Monsanto.

Always Q.
Always Q.6 years ago

Don't be tricked by the safety of corn if it's not organic. Most of the the corn that isn't organic is gmo corn. So, even though it might not have the high dosage of pesticides that other vegetables do it's still not safe to eat.

jessica w.
jessica w6 years ago


Berenice Guedes d.

Organics are always the best choice! Thanks a lot for sharing this with us.

Janine H.
Janine H6 years ago

This is a very sad story. Other animals and plants have to go only because "we" humans do not want to share the world with other life forms, these life forms "we" would not eat (vegetarian food is not a bad idea, or eating with conscience as the so called primitive cultures did and still do, if they still exist. No meat/fish every day). "We" destroy everything around us and "we" forget, that everything is important to survive, too.

As little child i thought that rain is when God and the angels cry - because "we" humans have forgotten that we need this "intelligence", someone who could help... if "we" hadn't turned away for many centuries ago...

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." (Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)