Guide to Pesticides in Produce

by Sue Taggart

As I unpacked my produce purchases from the local farmer’s market and supermarket this weekend, I wish I had paid more attention to EWG’s 2011 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Now, while they say eating conventionally-grown produce is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all, they certainly had my attention with the “you can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce.”

Until I have it memorized, I’m going to tape the “Dirty Dozen” list to my shopping list!

DIRTY DOZEN Buy these organic
1. Apples I did not, but I did peel them as I was cooking with them – hope that helped
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Sweet bell peppers I did not, but I roasted them to remove the skins!
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries (domestic) I did
11. Lettuce I did not – shame on me for this one!
12. Kale/collard greens I did

I also bought organic radishes, leeks and tomatoes.

CLEAN 15 Lowest in pesticides
1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus Glad I didn’t pay twice as much for the organic ones for the asparagus soup!
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Some other interesting information from EWG (Environmental Working Group) included the following:

Apples moved three spots up the Dirty Dozen chart from last year to the top spot. According to USDA, pesticides showed up in 98% of the more than 700 apple samples tested.

Making an appearance in the guide for the first time is the herb cilantro, which had never been tested by USDA before. The date showed 33 unapproved pesticides on 44% of the cilantro samples tested, which is the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded on any item included in the guide since EWG started tracking the data in 1995. One of my favorite herbs, I’m glad I decided to grow my own this year!

Also appearing in the guide for the first time are green onions, cranberries and mushrooms. Mushrooms made the “Clean 15” list, while honeydew was the only item to drop off that list this year. Cherries dropped off the “Dirty Dozen list, but lettuce, which has made the list in previous years, was back on.

Experts agree that pesticides can be extremely toxic to humane health and the environment. U.S. and international government agencies alike have linked pesticides to nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone system disruption and IQ deficits among children.

While buying organic is always the best choice, that may not always be an option. Consumers can choose five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG’s “Clean 15” list rather than the “Dirty Dozen”. This can lower the volume of pesticides consumed by 92% according to EWG’s calculations. Not only that, fewer types of pesticides will be consumed. If five fruits and vegetables were picked from the “Dirty Dozen” list this would result in consumption of over 14 different pesticides a day compared with fewer than two by choosing from the “Clean 15” list. So organic where possible, Clean 15 list next and the rest—well that’s up to you.

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