Organic Produce: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

Organic produce is all the rage these days, but do you need to buy EVERYTHING organic to avoid ingestion of potentially harmful pesticides and herbicides? Certain fruits and vegetables are grown using more virulent pesticides because of how and where they’re grown and the types of insects that damage them. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has conducted extensive research on popular fruits and vegetables to identify which are the most contaminated.
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Fruits & Vegetables

Photo by: Kelly Cline ©Kelly Cline

Kelly Cline, Kelly Cline

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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