Every year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests pesticides in samples of fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes the data from these samples to compile their widely-read Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables containing the highest amount of pesticide residue (and therefore a good idea to buy organic). They also release the Clean Fifteen, a list of crops with the lowest residue. Their comprehensive list ranks the pesticide contamination of 46 popular fruits and vegetables based on analysis of over 45,000 samples taken by the USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to the EWG’s written report for their lists released in 2021, “nearly 70 percent of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides.”¹ The EWG recognizes that fresh fruits and vegetables are vital components of a healthy diet and through their annual report aims to educate readers that many crops contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing, which the USDA performs before testing each food.
Why Does Pesticide Exposure Matter?
Pesticide ingestion has been linked to immune issues, cancer, developmental problems, Parkinson’s disease, and endocrine disruption.² Endocrine disruption can lead to a variety of conditions including endometriosis, precocious puberty, painful periods, elevated estrogen levels in men, and other hormonal conditions. Exposure to these chemicals has also been linked to lower IQs in children of exposed mothers, higher rates of prostate cancer in farm workers, and higher rates of ADHD.³
These concerns are serious and researchers are just beginning to uncover the long-term effects of pesticide ingestion. Reducing exposure wherever possible and choosing foods with the least amount of residue is a wise choice!
The EWG’s Dirty Dozen for 2021
- Kale, collard greens, and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
A few important highlights:
- Of the strawberries, apples, cherries, nectarines, and leafy greens tested, more than 90 percent of these samples tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
- Spinach samples on average had 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop tested.
- This year collard greens and mustard greens were added to the list along with kale. A single sample of these greens contained up to 20 different pesticides.
The EWG’s Clean Fifteen for 2021
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
A few important highlights:
- Nearly 70 percent of Clean Fifteen produce samples contained no pesticide residues.
- Avocados and sweet corn were deemed the “cleanest” options, with fewer than 2 percent of samples showing any detectable residues.
While eating 100 percent organic across the board is ideal, we understand that produce availability, budget constraints, and various other factors impact the choices we make on a daily basis. A great place to begin is by choosing organic options for foods on the Dirty Dozen list. Prioritizing organic selections for those foods is a fantastic first step in reducing exposure and thereby reducing the toxic load you’re putting on your body.
Use both the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to optimize your shopping at the store and make smart selections for your health and the health of your family!
Want a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to carry with you when you’re shopping? Use our printables! Download our easy-to-reference PDFs at the links below.