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12 Fruits and Veggies Make the "Dirty Dozen" List

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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