Every spring, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. In their guide they provided two lists: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. The Dirty dozen is a list of the most contaminated conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (plus two others that are often tainted with unusually hazardous pesticides). The Clean Fifteen list advises shoppers on the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables. This can help make organic buying easier because you can compare risk and cost.
There are many reasons to choose organic foods, but let’s face it. These foods cost more money and are not always in season and are harder to find consistently. When you know which produce is most important to buy organic, you can save time and money by adding in safe, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
How does the EWG do their testing? They test thousands of samples of conventionally grown (nonorganic) fruits and vegetables for pesticide residue. The produce is washed and peeled before testing. The EWG divides the produce into two categories: the Dirty Dozen Plus and the Clean Fifteen, making organic buying easier for consumers to digest.
Organic Buying Made Easier
The Dirty Dozen Plus
Many popular produce items top the Dirty Dozen list, and a lot of people are shocked to learn how contaminated their favorite foods may be. This year, strawberries rose to the top of the naughty list. They found 17 different pesticides on one dirty strawberry sample and 98% of all strawberry samples had at least one pesticide found. When you learn what is in your food, you can make better health decisions in the grocery aisle regarding what you are putting in your family’s mouths.
The 2016 Dirty Dozen list is as follows:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Hot Peppers—Dirty Dozen Plus
- Kale/Collard Greens—Dirty Dozen Plus
The 2016 Clean Fifteen
The Clean Fifteen list includes foods that contain the least contamination. You can save some money and stress about pesticide residue when buying conventionally grown versions of these foods.
The Clean 15 list is as follows:
- Sweet corn*
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melon
*These foods may be low in residue, but a small amount of sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash is grown from genetically modified organism (GMO) seed stock. If you avoid GMOs be sure these foods are not GMO, or just buy organic varieties.
More Benefits of Organic Foods
You might choose to buy organic to avoid consuming chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, but another benefit to buying organic is that organic produce is not genetically engineered. The same goes for other organic foods like dairy, eggs, and meat. Organic dairy products are free from synthetic hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs. Corn-fed beef may be more likely to contain hormones and pesticides, so choose organic grass-fed beef over nonorganic corn-fed beef. Other benefits of eating organic foods is that organic produce has been found to contain higher nutrient levels than other produce, plus organic farming practices are better for our environment and water supply.
It is surprising that potatoes fell off the Dirty Doze list this year. In the past, the EWG found that the “average potato contained more pesticides by weight than any other food.” Perhaps consumer demand is changing the way our food is grown.
When Organic Is Unavailable
While we strive to avoid unnecessary exposure to chemicals like pesticides, it is important that we do not get too scared to eat well. Organic produce is not always as available in all varieties year-round. Conventionally grown produce is often sprayed with chemicals to make it stay fresh longer, so organic produce has a shorter shelf life. Chances are that you will occasionally have to buy nonorganic apples or strawberries if you want to eat those foods, and it is much healthier to eat a conventionally grown apple or other whole food than to turn to a less-healthy or processed alternative like organic potato chips. Organic does not always equal healthy.
Do not avoid produce out of fear of chemicals. Instead use these guides as just a way to make conventional and organic buying easier when you are faced with the option of buying organic or not. If you are aware of the potential chemicals in some foods you can make better choices when organic is available, but when you have no organic option, keep eating those fruits and vegetables because eating more plants is a always great health decision.