Foods to buy organic

Each year the environmental Working Group puts out the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce calculates that USDA tests found a total 165 different pesticides on thousands of fruit and vegetables samples examined in 2013.
Pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables tested by USDA, even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.
Highlights of Dirty Dozen™ 2015 EWG singles out produce with the highest pesticide loads for its Dirty Dozen™ list. This year, it is comprised of apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.
Each of these foods tested positive in a number of different pesticide residues and showed higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce items.
Key findings:

  • 99 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

The Clean Fifteen™EWG’s Clean Fifteen™ list of produce least likely to hold pesticide residues consists of avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides on them.
Key findings:

  • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
  • No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen™ tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen™ vegetables. Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.

Visit EWG.org to read the full report summary.

Buying organic is one of those things we know we’re supposed to do without hesitation. It means we’re supporting the environment and sustainable farming practices, while also cutting back on how many pesticides we’re consuming. But the reality is that buying exclusively organic foods can be extremely unaffordable. Depending on where you live, it may even be impossible—not all grocery stores have an expansive organic section.

First off, it’s important to understand what organic means—and what it doesn’t.

For produce to be labeled organic, it has to meet certain USDA specifications, which make for more sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practices and cut back on our pesticide exposure. The criteria address things like soil quality, animal-raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. In order to get produce certified organic, producers must show that it was grown on soil that has been free of prohibited substances, including most synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, for at least three years. That doesn’t mean there are no synthetic pesticides, but that only certain ones are allowed. And to make things even more complicated, the list of prohibited substances changes from time to time. Organic products are also GMO-free.

For meat, organic means the animals were “raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100 percent organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.” The exception is that antibiotics may be administered when they’re sick and it’s medically necessary. The antibiotics themselves don’t hang around in the meat after the animals are slaughtered, so antibiotic residue, if any, isn’t cause for concern if you eat non-organic meat. The real issue: Microbiologists who study antibiotic resistance recognize that overzealous and unnecessary use of antimicrobials in farm animals may be contributing to the worldwide epidemic of antibiotic resistance (though not as much as overuse of antibiotics by humans does). If you can buy organic meat, it’s not a bad idea. But it’s more of a global safety issue than about whether or not the meat you bought is dangerous for you. The FDA requires manufacturers of non-organic meat to demonstrate that the level of hormones that end up on your plate is below what’s deemed safe.

Betsie van der Meer / Getty ImagesAlso, remember that an organic label doesn’t automatically make a food healthier.

“When we choose organic foods we are lowering the amount of pesticides and chemicals that could potentially be getting into our food supply,” Lori Zanini, R.D., spokesperson for the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF. Buying organic is good for our planet, and organic foods are often fresher because they do not contain any preservatives (so they can’t sit around on store shelves for weeks at a time). But it’s a common misconception that “organic” always means “healthy.”

Most evidence shows that organic versions of healthy foods probably aren’t any more nutritious than non-organic, though the answer isn’t 100 percent clear. Some research suggests pesticide residue may be more harmful at lower levels than we think, but again, more studies need to be done (many of them are still only animal studies). According to the Mayo Clinic, organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids, and fortifying agents like preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings, and flavorings. This may make them healthier in certain ways, but an organic orange isn’t going to pack more vitamin C than a regular one. When it comes to snacks like cookies and crackers, junk food is junk food, whether the flour and sugar is organically sourced or not.

While choosing organic foods over non-organic is a good idea when you can, it’s not the end of the world if you have to pick and choose only a few foods to buy with the label.

“If you can’t afford to buy organic, I would simply focus on choosing organic when it comes to the ‘Dirty Dozen,’” Zanini says. The “Dirty Dozen” is a list the Environmental Working Group puts out indicating which items in the produce aisle tend to have the highest concentrations of pesticide residues. Although the government does regulate non-organic produce to make sure the residues we consume are below a safe threshold, not every piece of fruit in every store gets tested (and imported produce adds another level on uncertainty). So each year, the EWG looks at the USDA and FDA’s sampling data for the most popular fruits and veggies and calls out the ones with the highest pesticide levels. The list is new every year, but the same things tend to keep cropping up.

12 Fruits and Vegetables You Should Always Buy Organic

Do you know what veggies and fruits you should buy organic? | iStock.com/Elenathewise

You’ve probably been there before. Standing in front of the organic produce section at your grocery store, you’ve eyed the noticeably smaller fruits and vegetables that are somehow double the price of the non-organic options just a few steps away. Unless you’re a true health nut (with some extra cash), chances are you turn around and throw some non-organic, more affordable produce into your cart before moving on. You may pat yourself on the back for even straying into the produce section at all considering that the processed foods you find in the middle aisles of the store are significantly cheaper.

While fresh produce is always a better choice than Cheetos, syrupy canned fruit, and frozen TV dinners, the trouble with conventional produce is that it’s grown using harmful pesticides. A pesticide can be a naturally derived or synthetically produced substance that is used to control insects, bacteria, fungus, mold, and rodents that can ruin a harvest of fruit or veggies. The National Pesticide Information Center states that they can also extend the shelf life of some foods, which is why those apples on the table can be grown in Chile, shipped to your grocery store in Kansas, and still taste fresh. The pesticides wear off as the produce is shipped, exposed to light, washed, and prepared, but there is often still a pesticide residue, which can have health risks associated with it.

This is why when it comes to fresh produce, it pays to understand what items you can buy non-organic and not worry about (called the “Clean 15”) and what fruits and vegetables are worth the organic mark-up. CNN reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs tests to measure the pesticide residue on the produce you buy. Based on these tests, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental activist group, puts together an annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the produce that has the most pesticide residue based on data from the USDA. For the past five years, apples have topped the charts on produce with the highest pesticide levels. Here’s a ranking of what the EWG is reporting for 2016.

12. Cucumbers

Make sure to buy your cucumbers organic | iStock.com

Insects can be a major problem in cucumber production. The veggies are susceptible to beetles, aphids, cutworms, and mites. To protect the cucumbers from bugs and disease, pesticides are used. To make matters worse, these pesticides are “restricted use pesticides” and require a pesticide license to purchase, says Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

11. Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes can hold onto pesticide residue | iStock.com

Cherry tomatoes are sensitive to plant disease, making pesticides a must. Because their protective layer is so thin, tomatoes often test positive for multiple pesticides that can be dangerous to your health, says MyDx.

10. Sweet Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are sprayed with an array of pesticides | iStock.com

Those delicious bell peppers you toss on your salad or stuff with couscous and cheese are sprayed with a combination of up to 50 different pesticides, including methyl bromide.

9. Tomatoes

Regular tomatoes are heavily sprayed with pesticides, too | iStock.com

Like their cousin the cherry tomato, regular tomatoes report high levels of pesticide residue because of their thin protective layer, What’s On My Food? states. It’s reported that these veggies’ pesticide count includes 12 suspected hormone disruptors.

8. Spinach

Spinach lovers — spend the extra cash and buy organic | iStock.com

Those tiny bugs called aphids love spinach, so farmers have to go to extreme efforts to protect their crop. Spinach tests positive for an ample number of pesticides, including organophosphates and hormone disruptors.

7. Cherries

Make sure you wash your cherries before you eat them | iStock.com

When cherry season rolls around, you may be so excited that you start munching before you even wash the fruit. This is a big no-no considering that cherries come in at number seven in the EWG’s Dirty Dozen.

6. Grapes

Grapes may contain hormone disrupters from the pesticides | iStock.com

Take the time to wash (and even rewash) your grapes. This delicious fruit contains carcinogens, suspected hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins.

5. Celery

Most celery contains pesticide residue if you’re not buying organic | iStock.com

Celery absorbs water through its roots, so any toxic chemicals in the soil are sucked up through the plant and passed along to you. Over 80% of celery in stores contains pesticide residue.

4. Peaches

Pests love the sweet taste of peaches, which is why they’re doused in pesticides | iStock.com

Pests love the sweet taste of peaches as much as you do, so farmers have to offset this by using toxic chemicals like endosulfan, a pesticide that has been linked to birth defects.

3. Nectarines

Nectarines are also very likely to contain pesticide residue | iStock.com

Like peaches, nectarines have to battle the bugs to remain in one piece. The fruit contains a large number of pesticide residues including formetanate hydrochloride, which shows up over 53% of the time.

2. Apples

Make sure to buy your apples organic | iStock.com

For years, apples have been the highest pesticide-ridden fruit. In 2016, the fruit slid to number two, but reports still state that over 99% of apples test positive for at least one pesticide residue.

1. Strawberries

Strawberries are the “dirtiest” fruit on the list | iStock.com

American’s eat nearly eight pounds of fresh strawberries a year. This delicious fruit contains pesticide residue with chemicals that have been linked to cancer and reproductive damage. In fact, the chemicals used to grow strawberries are banned in Europe.

12 Foods to Always Buy Organic (Plus 15 That Are OK Conventionally Grown)

Going organic poses a dilemma. On one hand, buying organic produce is a smart way to avoid pesticides. According to a study reported on in The New York Times, people who “ate more organic produce, dairy, meat and other products had 25 percent fewer cancer diagnoses over all, especially lymphoma and breast cancer.” Organic brings peace of mind.

But then, organic foods are more expensive than conventionally grown — 47% more, on average, according to Consumer Reports. Pricey organics can quickly blow up the food budget. So much for that peace of mind.

It’s reassuring then to know that some conventionally grown produce carries far less pesticide residue than others. Among the conventionally grown produce with the very lowest levels of pesticides are fruits and veggies that are “unwrapped” before being eaten. Think avocados, onions, pineapples, and sweet corn.

The bottom line is that you really can have it both ways. Buy organic fruits and vegetables that run the highest pesticide risk. And go conventional with those that are on the low-residue list…and save a little green.

Here are both lists — the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” — with links to loads of top-rated recipes.

Image zoom Photo by Meredith

The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that even after washing (and sometimes even after peeling), these fruits and veggies consistently carried higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Consider buying organic versions of these fruits and vegetables:

1. Strawberries

2. Apples

3. Nectarines

4. Peaches

5. Celery

6. Grapes

7. Cherries

8. Spinach

9. Tomatoes

10. Sweet bell peppers

11. Cherry Tomatoes

12. Cucumbers

Related: Why Eating Ugly Food Is A Beautiful Thing

These foods were shown to have less pesticide residue. Make them candidates for conventional:

1. Avocados

2. Sweet Corn

3. Pineapples

4. Cabbage

5. Sweet peas (frozen)

6. Onions

7. Asparagus

8. Mangos

9. Papayas

10. Kiwi

11. Eggplant

12. Honeydew Melon

13. Grapefruit

14. Cantaloupe

15. Cauliflower

Image zoom Photo by Meredith

Check out our collection of fresh Summer Fruits and Vegetable Recipes.

April 8, 2011— — We all know that pesticides and other chemicals can cling to the foods we eat and most of us want to minimize our exposure. That’s why some people buy organic.

Scientists have shown that children age 5 and under ingest an average of eight pesticides each day. And young children, whose internal organs and systems are developing rapidly, are particularly vulnerable to pesticides’ harmful effects.

Organic Is Better Because:

Studies have linked pesticide exposure to cancers, neurological damage as well as birth defects and even possible early onset of Parkinson’s.

Choosing fresh, organic ingredients you’ll not only lower the amounts of toxic pesticides in your body, but also halves your levels of bisphenol A and phthalates, both of which can alter your hormones.

Supporting organic farmers reduces the amount of pesticides, such as atrazine, that enter our waterways where they harm aquatic life and end up in our drinking water supplies.

Sustaining and helping organic farms grow also provides habitats for many more species than conventional agriculture. Among those animals that benefit are song birds, which thrive on insects found in organic fields.

Organic agriculture also helps fight global warming: Organic agriculture can bind 1,000 lbs of carbon per acre, whereas conventional agriculture increases carbon in the atmosphere.

5 Foods You Need To Buy Organic:

The best foods to buy organic are apples, bell peppers, carrots, celery and strawberries.

Nonorganic Seasonal Options:

While there are many reasons to buy organic foods not everyone can find fresh organic produce at their corner store, or afford the premium price tags, so it’s important to remember that there are some smart shopping decisions we can make that will help us save money while also reducing the pesticides on our plates.

Organic is not the only option for people that want to reduce the amount of pesticides they consume. There are fruits and vegetables that are known for having very low pesticide residues.

5 Foods You Don’t Need To Buy Organic:


Spring favorites like asparagus, avocado, sweet peas, grapefruit, onions and cabbage

Year Round

The five cleanest fruits and veggies are onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple and mango.

Other steps you can take to keep pesticides off your plate include always washing and peeling your produce, steam cooking leafy greens, and using the frozen organic version a try when the produce you want isn’t available fresh.


Organic foods can cost more than non-organic, sometimes 40 to 50 percent more. Below are the Fresh Direct prices for 1 piece of produce.

Note some of the most important produce to buy organic:

Apples, Bell Peppers, Carrots, Celery, Lettuce, Potatoes, Strawberries

Pesticides Used

Knowing how many pesticides are used when growing your produce is important. Check out the table below to help you make informed decisions.

Learn more about organic foods from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Food Organic Price Conventional Asparagus $4.99 $2.99 Avocado $2.99 $1.99 Sweet Peas $1.59 $1.59 Grapefruit $2.49 $0.89 Onions (Y) $1.29 $0.99 Sweet Corn $2.89 $1.69 Pineapple $5.99 $3.99 Mango (no organic option) $1.99

Note some of the most important produce to buy organic:

Apples, Bell Peppers, Carrots, Celery, Lettuce, Potatoes, Strawberries

Pesticides Used

Knowing how many pesticides are used when growing your produce is important. Check out the table below to help you make informed decisions.

Learn more about organic foods from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

$4.99/lb. $1.99 Carrots $1.99/bag $.89 Celery $3.99 $3.49 Lettuce $2.99 $1.99 Potato $1.49/lb. $.99 Strawberries $5.99 $4.99

Pesticides Used

Knowing how many pesticides are used when growing your produce is important. Check out the table below to help you make informed decisions.

Learn more about organic foods from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Learn more about organic foods from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

‘Dirty dozen’ produce carries more pesticide residue, group says

Toxic fruit and veggies? STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Environmental group says “Dirty Dozen” of produce contains 47 to 67 pesticides per serving
  • Government says consuming pesticides in low amounts is not harmful
  • Studies have found association between pesticides and health problems

Is enough being done to protect us from chemicals that could harm us? Watch “Toxic America,” a special two-night investigative report with Sanjay Gupta, M.D., June 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.

(CNN) — If you’re eating non-organic celery today, you may be ingesting 67 pesticides with it, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group.

The group, a nonprofit focused on public health, scoured nearly 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine what fruits and vegetables we eat have the highest, and lowest, amounts of chemical residue.

Most alarming are the fruits and vegetables dubbed the “Dirty Dozen,” which contain 47 to 67 pesticides per serving. These foods are believed to be most susceptible because they have soft skin that tends to absorb more pesticides.

“It’s critical people know what they are consuming,” the Environmental Working Group’s Amy Rosenthal said. “The list is based on pesticide tests conducted after the produce was washed with USDA high-power pressure water system. The numbers reflect the closest thing to what consumers are buying at the store.”

Special report: Toxic America

The group suggests limiting consumption of pesticides by purchasing organic for the 12 fruits and vegetables.

“You can reduce your exposure to pesticides by up to 80 percent by buying the organic version of the Dirty Dozen,” Rosenthal said.

The Dirty Dozen





Domestic blueberries


Sweet bell peppers

Spinach, kale and collard greens



Imported grapes


Not all non-organic fruits and vegetables have a high pesticide level. Some produce has a strong outer layer that provides a defense against pesticide contamination. The group found a number of non-organic fruits and vegetables dubbed the “Clean 15” that contained little to no pesticides.

The Clean 15



Sweet corn



Sweet peas


Kiwi fruit






Sweet potatoes

Sweet onions

What is a pesticide?

A pesticide is a mixture of chemical substances used on farms to destroy or prevent pests, diseases and weeds from affecting crops. According to the USDA, 45 percent of the world’s crops are lost to damage or spoilage, so many farmers count on pesticides.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the FDA and the USDA work together to monitor and set limits as to how much pesticide can be used on farms and how much is safe to remain on the produce once it hits grocery store shelves.

“In setting the tolerance amount, the EPA must make a safety finding that the pesticide can be used with ‘reasonable certainty of no harm.’ The EPA ensures that the tolerance selected will be safe,” according the EPA’s website.

Although the President’s Cancer Panel recently recommended that consumers eat produce without pesticides to reduce their risk of getting cancer and other diseases, the low levels of pesticides found on even the Dirty Dozen are government-approved amounts.

Can small amounts of pesticides hurt you?

The government says that consuming pesticides in low amounts doesn’t harm you, but some studies show an association between pesticides and health problems such as cancer, attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder and nervous system disorders and say exposure could weaken immune systems.

The Environmental Working Group acknowledges that data from long-term studies aren’t available but warns consumers of the potential dangers.

“Pesticides are designed to kill things. Why wait for 20 years to discover they are bad for us?” Rosenthal said.

Some doctors warn that children’s growing brains are the most vulnerable to pesticides in food.

“A kid’s brain goes through extraordinary development, and if pesticides get into the brain, it can cause damage,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Can pesticides be washed away?

Not necessarily. The pesticide tests mentioned above were conducted after the food had been power-washed by the USDA. Also, although some pesticides are found on the surface of foods, other pesticides may be taken up through the roots and into the plant and cannot be removed.

“We’ve found that washing doesn’t do much,” Rosenthal said. “Peeling can help, although you have to take into account that the pesticides are in the water, so they can be inside the fruit because of the soil.”

All fresh produce, whether it’s grown with or without pesticides, should be washed with water to remove dirt and potentially harmful bacteria. And health experts agree that when it comes to the Dirty Dozen list, choose organic if it’s available.

“To the extent you can afford to do so, should simply buy organic, because there have been some very good studies that shows people who eat mostly organic food reduce 95 percent of pesticides in two weeks,” Landrigan said.

Often touted for being highly nutritious, kale has joined the list of 11 other fruits and vegetables known to be “dirty,” according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

The watchdog group publishes its “Dirty Dozen” list annually, in which it ranks the 12 produce items that contain the highest amount of pesticide residues. The group analyzes data from the Department of Agriculture’s regular produce testing to determine the list.

Ranked alongside kale on the list are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

The last time kale was included in the USDA’s produce tests was 2009 and it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list.

“We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal,” said EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin in a release.

More than 92 percent of kale had residue from at least two pesticides after washing and peeling the appropriate vegetables, according to the report. Some had up to 18. Almost 60 percent of the kale samples showed residual Dacthal, a pesticide that is known as a possible human carcinogen.

Pesticides help protect crops against insects, weeds and infections, but research has shown a correlation between chemicals and health complications.

The group releases its “Clean Fifteen” list as well, highlighting the 15 produce items with the least amount of pesticide residue detected. It includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons.

Consumers should buy organic produce whenever possible to avoid pesticides, according to the report. But that shouldn’t deter people who can’t afford it from eating these items.

“The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,” EWG Research Analyst Carla Burns said in a release.

Kale Is One of the Most Contaminated Vegetables You Can Buy. Here’s Why

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes its Dirty Dozen list, which ranks the 12 pieces of produce that contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues.

This year, one of the dirtiest fruits and vegetables turns out to be kale, occupying the third spot on the EWG’s list of most contaminated. Strawberries top the list, followed by spinach. (The full 2019 Dirty Dozen list, ranked from most contaminated to least, include strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.)

The list is compiled from the results of regular testing done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on pesticide residues. This year, the tests showed that more than 92% of conventionally grown kale samples harbored at least two pesticide residues. Some contained as many as 18.

The USDA and FDA alternate testing among nearly four dozen fruits and vegetables every year and do not test the same ones annually. Nor do the agencies look for the same pesticides in each round of tests. The last time kale was tested was in 2009, when it ranked eighth on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list.

“The fact that the agencies don’t test each produce item every year is problematic,” says Nneka Leiba, director of healthy living science at EWG. “And more importantly, the fact that the USDA and FDA aren’t testing for all the pesticides used in fruits and vegetables is a huge problem.” The last time kale was tested, for example, it contained residues of imidacloprid, a nicotine substitute that is toxic to many insects, but the pesticide was not included in the most recent testing. The chemical is considered non-toxic to people but can cause breathing and intestinal problems if inhaled in excessive quantities.

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Kale and spinach contained 10% to 80% more pesticide residues by weight than any other fruit or vegetable. Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist at EWG, says these crops may be heavily contaminated because they grow close to the ground, where they are more likely to be exposed to bugs — and therefore to be targets for pesticides. Strawberries, another highly contaminated fruit, also grow low to the ground. The delicate leaves of kale and spinach also make them good candidates for spraying, since any infestation can damage the leaves and decrease the chances of being sold.

EWG highlights pesticide residues because some studies have linked exposure to the chemicals to health issues, including problems with fertility and brain development, and even cancer. The latest report on kale found traces of Dacthal, which the Environmental Protection Agency classified as a possible human carcinogen. Dacthal was banned in Europe in 2009.

The findings make the case for choosing organically grown fruits and vegetables, since research has shown that organic produce has fewer pesticide residues than conventional. If organic options are inaccessible or too expensive, you may want to consider choosing produce with lower amounts of pesticide residues. The EWG also lists the least contaminated fruits and vegetables — called the Clean Fifteen — and they include mostly produce with protective rinds or peels such as avocados, pineapples, sweet corn and eggplants. According to the government tests, fewer than 1% of avocados and sweet corn samples contained pesticide residue. Nearly all of the Clean Fifteen products contained less than four pesticides. (The full 2019 Clean Fifteen list, ranked from least to more contaminated, include avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons.)

A representative for the Alliance for Food and Farming, which represents both conventional and organic farmers, says that “residues are so low on conventionally grown produce, if present at all,” noting that concerns about pesticides should not dissuade people from consuming fresh fruits and vegetables.

EWG experts say there is little evidence that the use of pesticides on fruits and vegetables has declined over the years. In fact, says Temkin, there are hints that more pesticides may be sprayed on crops today. When kale was last tested, there were two types of residues on average detected on samples of the leafy green, and that average more than doubled to 5.5 in the latest report. “We see consistency with the foods continuously on the Dirty Dozen list,” she says.

While she is encouraged that the USDA and FDA conduct such testing for pesticides, she and others at EWG hope more people become educated about the prevalence of pesticide residue on their food, and the potential dangers of exposure to these chemicals. No national registry of the pesticides used on fruit and vegetable crops exist, so it’s not even clear which pesticides growers are spraying. Only California requires pesticides used on crops grown in the state be registered, so that the effects of human exposure can be noted. “Data supports the fact that pesticides can have adverse health effects, especially for children, so reducing pesticide residue in the diet is a good way to reduce exposure and lower those risks,” says Temkin.

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Over 92% of kale samples contained two or more pesticides, study finds

You may want to put the green juice down for this one.

Kale ranked as a third-worst fruit or vegetable behind strawberries and spinach when it comes to pesticide contamination, according to the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” report. Over 92% of kale samples were found to have two or more pesticide residues — and a single piece of kale could have up to 18 pesticides on or in it.

One of the pesticides commonly found with kale was Dacthal, or DCPA. The pesticide, which is banned in Europe and was classified by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible carcinogen, was found on nearly 60% of the kale samples tested.

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Here is the full list of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes

The Environmental Working Group’s ranking is based on an analysis of test data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA personnel test fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues regularly, making sure to replicate how shoppers would consume the product. For instance, if consumers regularly wash and peel a fruit before eating it, the USDA testers will do that before examining the product for pesticides.

The most popular product gets tested

The USDA changes the batch of fruits and vegetables it tests based on consumers’ eating habits. As such, kale had not been examined in nearly a decade. The last time the USDA included kale in its testing, from 2006 to 2008, the leafy green ranked No. 8 on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list.

In those intervening years, kale has becoming an increasingly popular food, particularly among health-conscious consumers. A growing number of food products now contain kale as an ingredient, and scientists are even working to create a tastier version of the broccoli relative.

Consumers should opt for organic food whenever possible to reduce their exposure to pesticides, experts say.

But the vegetable’s soaring popularity isn’t necessarily to blame for its propensity for pesticide contamination. “Some of the changes could be due to more harvesting of kale, it could also be due to analytical methods changing when we’re testing,” said Alexis Tremkin, a toxicologist at the Environmental Working Group.

Also see: Why you should eat vegetarian—and not just because it’s healthier

One option is to eat organic — but it will cost you

Another factor could be how kale is grown. Dacthal, the potentially carcinogenic pesticide, is typically applied directly to soil as a weed-killer. Because it’s in the soil, it can then be absorbed into the plant itself, said Carla Burns, a research analyst at the Environmental Working Group . Growing practices like this may explain the pesticide contamination that’s endemic to much of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables.

Altogether, some 70% of the conventionally-grown produce sold in the U.S. has pesticide residues, according to the report. However, consumers should not stop eating fruits and vegetables as a result.

Instead, consumers should opt for organic food whenever possible to reduce their exposure to pesticides, experts say. And when that’s not feasible, they should opt instead for fruits and vegetables that are less likely to be contaminated. Organic food is more expensive than conventionally-farmed food, though it’s getting cheaper. Organic kale was 5% more expensive than the conventionally-grown version in January, the Associated Press reported, citing USDA data.

A farming group says the findings will scare consumers

A farming group took issue with the Environmental findings. The Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, a trade group representing both conventional and organic farmers, said EWG’s list is “not scientifically unsupportable” and scares shoppers into avoiding produce altogether. “It is time to stop calling non-organic forms of healthy fruits and veggies ‘dirty’ and perpetuating unfounded safety fears that may negatively impact consumers’ purchasing of both organic and conventional produce,” said AFF executive director Teresa Thorne in a statement.

AFF noted that an analysis conducted by toxicologists with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program found an adult woman could eat 18,615 servings of kale in a day and a child could consume 7,446 servings and not suffer any health effects.

The ‘cleanest’ produce

The Environmental Working Group also released its annual “Clean Fifteen” produce list. Less than 30% of those fruits and vegetables have pesticide contamination, based on the USDA’s testing. The “Clean Fifteen” includes the following:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwis
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cantaloupe
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Honeydew melons

Jacob Passy

Jacob Passy is a personal-finance reporter for MarketWatch and is based in New York.

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