What could be more taste-tempting than a big bowl of fresh cut fruit?   Juicy goodness, gorgeous colors, nature’s best source of vitamins and minerals, and a naturally sweet treat for young and old.

We know it’s delicious, we think it’s healthy, but what we can’t see may tell a different story!   Part of the reason some fruits and vegetables look picture perfect is because of the chemicals and pesticides used during their growth.   For some fruits, like apples, pesticides are used during the growing season to keep away bugs, and then chemicals are used during and after harvest to help preserve the fruit.     USDA testing has found a total of 146 different pesticides that impact 75% of produce crops!    In many cases, even washing or peeling your fruits and vegetables can’t eliminate all the pesticides, though it’s always a good idea to do so.

Increased awareness of these often toxic treatments has sparked a growing interest in ‘going organic’.   Have you noticed an increase in the number of Farmers’ Markets?   Or larger floor space in your grocery store for the ‘Organic’ section?   Consumers are looking for healthier options, yet large agriculture and processing operations are concerned with producing mass quantities of ‘products’ that look good and sell well.   They often use these chemical treatments to increase the yield in a crop, which lets them promote their prices as ‘cheaper than organic’.

The Federal Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 enforced pesticide reduction by the Environmental Protection Agency, to regulate and minimize the risk of pesticide exposure, especially for children.   Many of those pesticides were found to be powerful neurotoxins, that can impact brain development and long-term intelligence.   However, even though the initial ruling reduced the use of these organophosphates, a study done in 2012 showed that these chemicals were still in use, resulting in lower infant birth weights and shorter pregnancies for those exposed to the pesticides during pregnancy.  Clearly, the 1996 ruling did not solve the problem, so there’s good reason to be an educated consumer, using good information on making healthy choices.

The Environmental Working Group has, for years, created educational materials and guidelines on ‘best to choose’ and ‘best to avoid’ fruits and vegetables to make it easier to decide which is best for your family.   Their lists, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean Fifteen” separate the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides, and those with the lowest.   It’s a great resource to help decide where ‘organic’ fits on your shopping list.   By staying away from the high pesticide group in commercially grown produce, you can easily reduce your intake of pesticides and chemicals.   Here are the most recent lists, to help you make the right choices.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ for 2016

The list may change slightly, depending on test results from year to year, but the top 3 or 4 are consistent.  Here they are in order of MOST to LEAST amounts of pesticide residues:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers

As an example of some of the findings for inclusion on this list, researchers found that more than 98% of strawberries, peaches, apples and nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide.   In some samples of strawberries, testers found 17 different pesticides, and in a sampling of grapes and sweet bell peppers, they found 15 pesticides.

In addition to the ‘Dozen’ listed above, this year, the group has added two items as ‘Dirty Dozen Plus‘ — ‘leafy greens’ (Kale and Collard greens) and ‘hot peppers’. These two are highlighted because the U.S. Department of Agriculture found ‘particularly toxic’ insecticides that can be especially harmful, despite the 1996 regulations.

The ‘Clean Fifteen’ for 2016

The healthier choices in commercial produce test significantly lower on the chemical scale.   The list below is ranked from lowest to highest pesticide residue on the ‘cleaner’ side of the grocery aisle.

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen Sweet Peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwis
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower

Unlike the ‘Dirty’ list, no single fruit sample from the ‘Clean’ list tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticide, and multiple residues are rare on the vegetables from this list.   Most samples from pineapples, papayas, mangoes, kiwi and cantaloupe showed low or no residues, and only 1% of avocado samples showed any pesticide residues at all.

So, for those working towards better nutritional health, these two lists can be a handy guide for food shopping and prep.   For those who can’t find, or afford an ‘all-organic’ diet, you can still reduce your pesticide load by choosing wisely from the lists above.  Buy organic for items with higher concentrations of pesticides or chemicals, and buy commercial grade produce for the cleaner items listed above.  You’ll feel better about your healthy choices, and since “knowing is half the battle,” you can plan a diet with all the health benefits of fruits and vegetables — without the pesticides!


EWG’s 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. retrieved February 8, 2017, from Environmental Working Group Web Site: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

Boscamp, E. ( February 25, 2015). 12 Fruits & Veggies With The Most Pesticides. retrieved February 8, 2017, from Mind Body Green Web Site: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17624/12-fruits-veggies-with-the-most-pesticides-2015-dirty-dozen.html