The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15
Fruits and vegetables are clearly critical to good health. They contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that help protect again chronic diseases. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “…people who eat more generous amounts of fruit and vegetables as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and perhaps other cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.”
But, there’s a caveat: certain conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables carry unsafe levels of pesticide residues. To address this, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment, created a list of the 12 most contaminated plant foods that they call the “Dirty Dozen”.
Making the List
Analysts from the EWG combed through the results of 89,000 sample tests conducted by the USDA and the FDA for pesticide residues on conventionally-grown produce. The produce had been power-washed before the tests. Contamination was measured in 6 different ways:
- Percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
- Percent of samples with two or more pesticides
- Average number of pesticides found on a single sample
- Average amount of all pesticides found
- Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
- Total number of pesticides found on the commodity
Produce was ranked based on their individual USDA test results for each metric. See this EWG report for the complete methodology, individual results, and final scores.
The Dirty Dozen
The fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list are contaminated with an average of 10 different pesticides. They may be difficult to wash, are usually eaten unpeeled, or pesticides migrate through the roots. The EWG recommends buying the organic versions of the Dirty Dozen to reduce your exposure to chemicals in produce by 80 percent.
- Domestic blueberries
- Sweet bell peppers
- Spinach, kale and collard greens
- Imported grapes
The Clean 15
The fruits and vegetables on the Clean 15 list are less contaminated, each with an average of only two different pesticides. In addition, they are often peeled and their outer layers are disposed of and they are easier to wash.
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Kiwi fruit
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet onions
The Bottom Line: Even though the government says that consuming pesticides in low amounts is not harmful and the link between pesticides and cancer is still inconclusive, many people, especially pregnant women and parents of little children, don't want to take a chance. Although pesticides taken into the plant through the roots cannot be removed, it is still prudent to use 100% natural produce wash to remove pesticides, chemicals, waxes, and bacteria from the surface of produce.
Do you buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen?