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12 Fruits and Veggies Make the "Dirty Dozen" List

By bethanysanders |

That ants on a log snack you fed your preschooler for lunch?  It may have been served up with a side of up to 67 kinds of pesticide residues, says a new report by the Environmental Working Group.  Same goes for those sweet strawberries that are currently in season.

In an effort to raise awareness about pesticide use, the group  reviewed 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and put together a list of the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, or those that contain the highest amount of pesticide residues even after being washed with a high-pressure washing system.

If reducing pesticide exposure is your goal, you don’t have to go 100 percent organic, says the Environmental Working Group’s Amy Rosenthal.   “You can reduce your exposure to pesticides by up to 80 percent by buying the organic version of the Dirty Dozen,” she said.

Here’s the list:

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Domestic blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Spinach, kale and collard greens
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Imported grapes
  • Lettuce

The EWG has also designated the “Clean 15,” or 15 fruits and vegetables that are relatively clean of pesticide residues.  They are:

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sweet onions

Though the EWG takes the stance that pesticides kill things and so are therefore harmful, government groups like the FDA and EPA have agreed on an amount that’s “generally regarded as safe.”  The amounts on the Dirty Dozen fall into those limits.

Organics frustrate me, because in this economy they are increasingly hard to find — at least in my neighborhood.  Nobody can afford them, so the stores stop carrying them, or the versions that we do get are moldy and soft.  Even our farmer’s market only hosts one organic farmer, and she wants $2.99 for one yellow pepper.  We tend to choose local over organic, but that doesn’t solve the pesticide problem.

These lists help, though, to a point.  Now I know where to focus my dollars (strawberries, which my kids eat like candy) and that I can happily buy up watermelons, sweet corn, and asparagus this summer without worry.  Still, come fall when the growing season is over, my choices will again be limited to non-organics or nothing at all.

Like these lists?  Email the EWG to get a card-sized version of the list you can print out and store in your wallet or an iPhone app you can refer to every time you shop.

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16 thoughts on “12 Fruits and Veggies Make the "Dirty Dozen" List

  1. Heather says:

    we solved part of the organic problem by growing our own fruit and veggies as much as we can. I even went so far as to get a few apple trees and planted them in our yard since my son loves, loves, loves apples. I agree with the local over organic for fruits and veggies. Where I focus on the organic is dairy and eggs, since there have been studies shown that the hormones in milk and eggs is linked to early puberty for girls. I could never afford to go all organic so I pick and choose based on my personal priorities. I have found that freezing and/or canning in the summer and fall, helps keep fresh, healthy veggies and fruits in our house during the winter without breaking the bank, and surprisingly it is very easy.

  2. Maureen says:

    We are growing some of our own and we do by some organic, but we can’t afford much — organic strawberries are more than double the price of regular. My kids *love* blueberries, but I just don’t buy fresh ones anymore because organic ones are cost-prohibitive. I know that cleaning fruit/veggies with peroxide and vinegar (separate bottles and then rinse) removes bacteria… but I wonder if it also removes pesticides.

  3. PlumbLucky says:

    @Heather – several brands of milk in my neck of the woods are hormone free without being organic, maybe something to look for? We’re lucky enough to live close enough to farmland so we can pick up farm fresh eggs (yeah, you have to candle them but still…)
    I also do a TON of canning and freezing over the summer. Its family tradition :-) (Seriously, it is. We had three generations of family helping out last time…)

  4. Heather says:

    PlumbLucky thanks for the info about the milk, I will take a look. My suspicion is that in my area, not really close to farm land, that won’t be an option. I would love it if it were though. I love canning, and when I first started I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I don’t do pressure canning, but that is mostly because I prefer frozen veggies over canned.

  5. Eric says:

    No such thing as ‘hormone free milk.’ Just like ‘hormone free’ meat would be no meat at all. If you eat anything plant or animal, your are consuming hormones. Most (if not all) hormones are very simple protiens that don’t survive the earliest stages of digestion intact. You dissolve them into protein soup that your body makes use of. More importantly, rBST can’t make it through the intestinal walls without being disassembled, and if it did there is no known receptor for it in the human body. Is there reason to be concerned about rBST? It deserves further study, but most of the research linking milk to early puberty (and other concerns) is largely corallary. The dairy I work at doesn’t use rBST, but that is because over concerns over cow health.

  6. Magnoliama says:

    Does anyone know how blueberries labeled “wild” factor into this?

  7. Heather says:

    I was talking about added hormones that the dairy farmers give the cows to maximize milk production, not naturally occurring hormones.

  8. Heather says:

    and even if there is no concrete evidence that the extra hormones are partly to blame for early puberty, I still feel that for my family organic dairy products are the way to go.

  9. ChiLaura says:

    Is it better to eat the dirty dozen even if they’re not organic, or to skip these fruits altogether? Besides the cost, these fruits are not witin easy reach where we live. And I NEED strawberries! Yum.

  10. ChiLaura – I wish I knew! We did plant a strawberry patch in our backyard, but my kids go through them so fast that we still rely heavily on the store to provide them.

  11. [...] 12 Fruits and Veggies Make the “Dirty Dozen” List [...]

  12. [...] You can choose foods that are not treated with hormones, antibiotics or chemicals. Start with this list of the worst pesticide [...]

  13. Eric says:

    Heather- just making the point that you are already consuming hormones in milk. Even Bovine Growth Hormone is in milk. If you want to drink organic, by all means go ahead. I just was interjecting a ‘reality check’ on the phrase ‘hormone free’ that gets tossed around refering to food.

  14. [...] If it’s on the dirty-dozen list, organic might very well be better than local, especially if you eat it a [...]

  15. The Farm Side says:

    I have tracked down the Alliance for Food and Farming’s study results on this subject.

    This is the executive summary. And while it is pretty conclusive. Here is the link to the report:

    The report is listed on the 7/15/2010 post date on this home page.

    And here is the executive summary…

    “This report describes the deliberations and conclusions of a scientific expert panel assembled to evaluate statements made by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) regarding the potential health effects of pesticide residues on food and the nutritional quality of organically grown food compared to food grown using conventional agricultural methods.
    The panel was commissioned by the Alliance for Food and Farming, but the sponsor did not participate in the production of this report.
    The EWG has recently assembled a list of 47 fruits and vegetables for which they have analyzed publicly-available data to determine the number and the magnitude of pesticide residues detected on these commodities. The list includes a subgroup that EWG has termed the “dirty dozen” asserting that these 12 foods contain the highest levels and/or numbers of pesticides relative to other commonly available produce in the United States, and implying that there are known to be adverse health effects associated with consuming these foods that are due to the presence of these pesticide residues.
    For example, the EWG states that “The growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood.”
    “Small” is not defined. The OTA has made similar statements with a focus on the potential negative effects to children, although it has apparently not conducted any relevant independent analysis of exposure or toxicity data or the edpidemiology literature.
    The panel has reviewed the materials prepared by the EWG and the OTA and came to the following conclusions:
    –The EWG’s list may reflect a relatively accurate ordering of the listing of the 47 commodities from the “highest” to “lowest” levels/numbers of pesticide residues. However, the list is misleading to consumers in that it is based only upon exposure to data while remaining silent about available information on the assessment of the toxicity of pesticides presented in the diet, and, as such, does not provide a basis to assess risk. There are also no acknowledgment of the fact that the data show that the residue levels detected are, with very rare exception, below or, more likely, well below, the legal limits established only after calculating the potential total nonoccupational exposure that an individual might experience to a pesticide approved for use on an agricultural commodity.
    Furthermore, it is disconcerting that EWG does not describe its methodology in sufficient detail so other can duplicate their analysis and independently judge its credibility, particularly given the widespread press coverage that its “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” has received.
    –The panel does not agree with EWG’s assertion that there is a “growing consensus among scientists” that the amount of pesticide residues currently found on food constitutes a significant public health issue. While there will always be some uncertainty associated with evaluating the possibility of small health risks, the available scientific data do not indicate that this source constitutes a significant risk.
    –The U.S. EPA’s current process for evaluating the potential risks of pesticides on food is rigorous and health protective. The EPA’s testing requirements for pesticides used on food are more extensive than for chemicals in any other use catagory, and include testing targeted spcifically to assess the potential risks to fetuses, infants and children.
    –The currently available scientific data do not provide a convincing argument to conclude that there is a significant difference between the nutritional quality of organically grown food and food grown with conventional agricultural methods.”

    I would urge you to read the entire report and form your own opinion from that.

    Again, I am just here to present the Farm Side of view.

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