Pesticides on Produce: The New ‘Dirty Dozen’ List

Every year the Environmental Working Group releases a Clean Fifteen list and a Dirty Dozen list, both of which detail pesticide residues on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Here are the updated lists for 2016.

  • The edible parts of thick-skinned fruits, such as avocados and bananas, are fairly protected from pesticide residue.
    Photo by Dani Vincek/Fotolia
  • For the first time in five years, strawberries topped the list of the most contaminated conventionally grown produce.
    Photo by Dani Vincek/Fotolia

Have you ever wondered which pieces of pristine-looking produce to avoid at the grocery store because of herbicide and pesticide residues? For 12 years, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has conducted a thorough annual analysis of 48 popular types of produce to answer just that question: Which fruits and vegetables contain the most pesticide residues?

The EWG publishes the results in its annual “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” ranking the worst offenders in its Dirty Dozen list and giving a shoutout to the relatively residue-free produce on its Clean Fifteen list. While apples topped the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list for five years running, strawberries came in No. 1 as this year’s most contaminated conventionally grown type of produce. According to the EWG, 98 percent of strawberry samples tested had detectable pesticide residues. Forty percent of samples had residues of 10 or more pesticides, and some had residues of 17 different pesticides — quite a chemical cocktail for a pint of strawberries. The EWG says that while some of the chemicals detected on the strawberries are relatively benign, others are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption, and neurological problems.

The EWG has recently started to include a Dirty Dozen Plus category in its report. This section highlights types of produce that didn’t rank in the Dirty Dozen list based on the traditional scoring criteria, but that were found to contain particularly toxic types of pesticides. This year, kale, collard greens, and hot peppers were spotlighted in the Dirty Dozen Plus. Samples contained residues of strong, harmful organophosphate and carbamate insecticides that are toxic to human brains and nervous systems, particularly in children.

In this year’s Clean Fifteen, avocados had the lowest pesticide load. Only 1 percent of avocado samples revealed any detectable pesticides. Roughly 89 percent of pineapples, 81 percent of papayas, 78 percent of mangos, 73 percent of kiwi, and 62 percent of cantaloupes had no residues.

While the EWG’s annual report does a great job of shedding real-time insight into the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables, it’s important to note that this analysis doesn’t factor in any environmental costs of pesticide and herbicide spraying. The best way to push back against the use of agricultural chemicals that are potentially harmful to ecosystems and your own health is to grow your own food, opt for USDA Certified Organic produce, or purchase ingredients from local growers who are transparent about their farming practices. However, for folks who don’t have easy access to these options, knowing which fruits and vegetables likely contain the most pesticides is a helpful and important step for making decisions about what goes into their shopping carts.

Dirty Dozen

• Strawberries
• Apples
• Nectarines
• Peaches
• Celery
• Grapes
• Cherries
• Spinach
• Tomatoes
• Sweet bell peppers
• Cherry tomatoes
• Cucumbers

1/4/2018 10:21:32 AM

It is really awful when a trusted resource like Mother Earth News does not take the trouble to vet something as important as this. It is inexcusable to not include Glyphosate in the toxic herbicide assessment or bt corn a terrible source of gut disruption especially in children. Deceiving, folks, and someone there better have the guts to straighten it out for your readers.

1/1/2018 3:35:06 PM

Jessicadenning as is MsPotter- you are both spot on in every respect.

1/1/2018 11:30:43 AM

Shame on EWG publishing this fraudulent list to promote pesticide filled foods.. EWG does not include glyphosate (Roundup weedkiller) in the pesticide residues - at all. Glyphosate is the most used pesticide (herbicide) on foods. EWG does not test foods itself, but relies on tests by others. The EPA/FDA/USDA refuses to test for glyphosate residue, tho the amount in our urine has increased 500% in just ten years, especially in poorer communities.. EWG lists sweet corn here as its top Clean 15 vegetable. There are a dozen varieties of GMO sweet corn. They are ALL conveniently unlabeled, and could be frozen, canned, processed or fresh. The Clean and Dirty 15 lists are great marketing tools for Monsanto to promote conventional food vs organic food. Mother Earth News, what are you doing, to put this here with no mention of Tony Mitra's "Poison Foods of North America" which lists his FOIA (Canadian Freedom of Information Act) findings of glyphosate in food? The only way to avoid pesticides is to eat organic, and as fresh, local and homegrown as possible. Roundup does not wash or peel off. It is systemic. Yes, conventional food is cheaper. Poisons are heavily subsidized and favored in regulation. Farmers must PAY to become organic, for instance and are regulated, whereas conventional is not. The true long term cost to our children and the earth are not included in the true cost of conventional agriculture. Eat organic for the planet. And yourself.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters