Organic Produce: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

by in Healthy Tips, April 22, 2010


Organic produce is all the rage these days, but do you need to pay the premium to buy EVERYTHING organic? Some fruits and vegetables are grown using more pesticides and herbicides than others. We’re breaking down research from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to let you know which foods you should splurge on in the organic section and which foods you can buy conventional some of the time.

Shopping Tips
Organic produce is pesticide-free, but you don’t always have to buy organic. Some foods stay low in pesticides even when grown conventionally, while others are so wrought with pesticides that it’s worth the splurge to avoid chemicals. According to the EWG, “people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.” To help decide where to spend your organic dollar, check out the the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists below.

Dirty Dozen
Ranked in order from the greatest to least amount of pesticide residue, these were the top 12 fruit-and-veggie offenders. Peaches came in first in the 47 types of produce tested. Buy these items organic whenever possible. Since organic foods can be pricey, offset the cost by buying these fruits and veggies in season when prices are the most reasonable.

1.    Peaches
2.    Apples
3.    Bell Peppers
4.    Celery
5.    Nectarines
6.    Strawberries
7.    Cherries
8.    Kale
9.    Lettuce
10.  Grapes (imported)
11.     Carrots
12.     Pears

Honorable mentions:
Other veggies that ranked high on the EWG list are collard greens, spinach and potatoes.

Clean Fifteen
These items contain the lowest levels of pesticides when grown conventionally. Listed from least to greatest, onion scored the lowest for pesticide content.

1.    Onions
2.    Avocados
3.    Sweet corn
4.    Pineapples
5.    Mango
6.    Asparagus
7.    Sweet Peas
8.    Kiwi
9.    Cabbage
10.    Eggplant
11.    Papaya
12.    Watermelon
13.    Broccoli
14.    Tomatoes
15.    Sweet Potatoes

Decrease the amount of pesticide residue even further by washing produce well before using.

Food for Thought
Locally grown produce often comes from smaller farms that don’t have to use the same types or amounts of pesticides as large farms that service grocery stores. Talk to your local farmer to find out how he or she uses pesticides.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »

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Comments (5)

  1. Many consumers are likely to be affected by your DIRTY DOZEN group because apples, bell peppers and carrots are almost staples to every recipe. What a relief that onion scores such low ranking for low pesticide (my onion soup will be safe).

    It is amazing how simple food processing routines like washing can reduce the amount of pesticides. It is widely believed that pesticides are embedded in the produce and not extrinsic. This tip brings so much comfort to consumers quite scared about pesticides and feel there is nothing they can do about it.

  2. Michael says:

    I think the conclusion is obvious: Foods that contain protective external shells or skins are safer to buy non-organic than foods that have no protection against chemical absorption.

  3. judy says:

    So if we buy the whole carrot and peel them does that mean they would be safer to eat?

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