The Dirty Dozen
An apple a day may no longer be enough. If you really want to keep the doctor away, you may need to make that apple organic
While there is still some debate as to whether organic produce is more nutritious than conventionally raised fruits and vegetables, research is beginning to show that people who eat organic foods do consume fewer pesticides. The Environmental Working Group, which has been testing produce for pesticide residues for more than a decade, reports that a 2015 study at the University of Washington “found that people who report they ‘often or always’ buy organic produce had significantly less organophosphate insecticides in their urine samples … even though they reported eating 70 percent more servings of fruits and vegetables per day than adults reporting they ‘rarely or never’ purchase organic produce.”
Avoiding high levels of pesticide exposure is especially important for pregnant women and children, who are more susceptible to physical and mental damage from toxic insecticides.
To make it easier for consumers to know when it’s important to go organic and when it’s OK to choose conventional produce, the Environmental Working Group — a nonprofit watchdog organization — puts out its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce most years. The two lists in the guide — the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen — identify the most contaminated and the safest conventionally grown fruits and vegetables from samples tested by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration.
Highlights of the 2017 Dirty Dozen
More than 98 percent of strawberries, spinach, nectarines, peaches, cherries and apples sampled tested positive for at least one kind of pesticide residue. A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. On average, spinach samples had twice as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop.
Pears and potatoes were new additions to the Dirty Dozen, displacing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from last year’s list.
The Dirty Dozen Plus
This year’s list highlights hot peppers, which can contain insecticides toxic to the human nervous system. If you often eat hot peppers and cannot find or afford the organic variety, EWG recommends that you cook them; cooking often lowers pesticide levels.
Highlights of the 2017 Clean Fifteen
Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest of all the produce tested. Only 1 percent of samples showed any pesticide residue.
More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbage were free of pesticide residue.
No single fruit sample on the Clean Fifteen list tested positive for more than four types of pesticides.
Only 5 percent of Clean Fifteen vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.
For more information about all of the programs of the Environmental Working Group and complete lists ranking 48 different fruits and vegetables, go to ewg.org. A $15 donation to EWG will get you a Shopper’s
Guide to Pesticides in Produce tag for your reusable shopping bag.