You’re trying to stay healthy so you head to the produce section as soon as you get into your grocery store. You search the shelves and fruit stands to get your sweet fix (as a way to forego processed desserts and added sugars), and you reach for the strawberries. Pause. According to the new annual report from the Environmental Working Group, “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” strawberries once again topped the “Dirty Dozen” list, so it’s time to rethink our grocery buying strategy against this dirtiest fruit.
In a test of pesticide contamination, researchers found that one single strawberry contained 22 different pesticide residues. More than that, nearly one-third of all conventionally farmed strawberries had 10 or more pesticides within the fruit.
Disturbed? Rightfully so. But as the organization shows, this isn’t the first time that our favorite berry has made it to the top of the list. Quickly following strawberries was our other favorite nutrient-based vegetable (or so we thought). Conventionally-farmed spinach, it turns out, had nearly “1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop,” the EWG announced.
The Dirty Dozen
The next time you’re out shopping for produce, keep this list in mind, courtesy of the EWG. Here are the “Dirty Dozen” in order of worst to, well, less pesticide-ridden:
- Strawberries: contain 22 pesticide residues.
- Spinach: contains permethrin, a known neurotoxic insecticide.
- Nectarines: nearly 94 percent of the nectarines tested were found to have two or more pesticides.
- Apples: in total, 90 percent of the tested apples had pesticides, and a whopping 80 percent were found to have diphenylamine, a known pesticide that has already been banned in Europe.
- Grapes: more than 90 percent of the tested grapes contained pesticides, at an average of five.
- Peaches: the tested peaches were found to have, on average, four pesticides.
- Cherries: nearly 30 percent of the tested cherries had traces of iprodione, a pesticide that has been banned in Europe, and may have connections to cancer.
- Pears: in particular, pears were found to contain high amounts of insecticides and fungicides and more than half of the ones tested had five or more pesticides.
- Tomatoes: in total, four pesticides were found on the average tomato, and one sample (brace yourself) had 15.
- Celery: 95 percent of celery had pesticides, with one sample even tested positive for a whopping 13!
- Potatoes: yes, our favorite starch made the list, and had more pesticides by weight than any other crop.
- Sweet bell peppers: we have a good-news-bad-news situation with sweet bell peppers, the EWG shows. The good? They have fewer pesticides than other foods that make the list. The bad? The pesticides they do have are more toxic to humans.
The Clean Fifteen
While the Dirty Dozen may have you seriously rethinking your shopping list, there is some good news. The EWG also released their list of produce that is least likely to have pesticides, and if they did contain pesticides, they were in very low concentrations.
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melons
What you can do
If this list has you seriously worrying about your produce choices and consumption, it’s no shocker. But there is one, relatively available, way to help change that. Buy organic, the EWG says. People who eat organic fruits and vegetables tend to retain fewer pesticides in general, so opting for the non-GMO fruits can be your safest bet to safeguard against the effects of the “Dirty Dozen.”