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 2022, “nearly 70 percent of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides.” 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.
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 2022
- Kale, Mustard Greens, and Collard Greens
- Hot Peppers
An important note: Some of the sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the USA is genetically modified. If you also want to avoid genetically modified crops (recommended), buy organic varieties of these crops.
The EWG’s Clean Fifteen for 2022
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
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. However, keep in mind that the majority of sweet corn is genetically modified.
- A little under five percent of these Clean Fifteen samples had residues from two or more pesticides.
- The first six on the Clean Fifteen list had three pesticides or fewer per sample.
- Three vegetables were removed from the Clean Fifteen list in 2022: broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant. These three hadn’t been tested by the USDA in six or more years.
- The three foods that were added in 2022 are mangoes, watermelon, and sweet potatoes.
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!