What are the Dirty Dozen (& Clean Fifteen)?

Posted under  Better Planet, Food & Health, Nature's Path on
Each spring the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases two lists aimed at helping shoppers navigate the produce aisle: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. With so many choices – and so many price points – to select from, EWG’s lists simplify the process of choosing between organic and conventional produce to optimize your health and maximize your food budget. EWG’s findings are based on annual pesticide residue tests performed by the USDA. The USDA tests multiple samples of each produce item, washed and peeled to mimic how they would be consumed at home. EWG compiles that data into a ranking based on their list of defined criteria in order to more fully reflect the possible risk each poses to consumers.

Pesticides and Your Health

Pesticides can impact human health in a number of ways. Evidence suggests that exposure to organophosphates can have negative effects on brain and nervous system development in children. Long-term direct exposure to pesticides is associated with diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s, as well as chronic symptoms such as nausea, headaches, rashes, or even depression and anxiety. Studies that look at the health effects of food-based pesticide residues are rare because they are difficult to perform and require long-term data collection. However, a significant 2017 study found a correlation between consuming produce with high pesticide residues (many of the same items appear on the Dirty Dozen list) and reduced fertility in women. A previous study found a similar correlation with male fertility.

The Dirty Dozen

Topping the list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, the 2018 Dirty Dozen are:
  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet bell peppers
  13. Hot peppers
Hot peppers are included as the 13th “dirtiest” because they contain residues of three toxic insecticides that are banned from most crops, but are still allowed on hot peppers. All of the fruits and vegetables on this list tested positive for at least one pesticide residue (and, in several cases, 4-20 different residues) in higher concentration than other types of produce. When possible, be sure to purchase organically grown produce from the Dirty Dozen list to avoid these potentially harmful residues. EWG also publishes a full ranking of all produce tested by the USDA. Check the full list to see how your favorite vegetables rank.

The Clean Fifteen

The Clean Fifteen are fruits and vegetables that tend to have the smallest traces of pesticide residues. The 2018 Clean Fifteen are:
  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet frozen peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew melon
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
Clean Fifteen produce routinely tests very low for pesticide residues and EWG considers them safe to consume as “conventional” rather than organic. However, organic produce is always better for your health and the environment, so continue to buy organic when you can!

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About The Author

Sarah West has worked on small farms and local food systems since 2008, a path that has taken her from pulling weeds on an organic garlic farm in northeastern Oregon to managing a vibrant farmers market in Portland. Along the way she earned an associate's degree in Horticulture and ran her own small farm, where she learned how hard it is to make a living growing organic food. She currently lives at the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains in northeast Oregon, where she and her husband recently bought a plot of land down the road from the garlic farm where it all started.

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