How Many Pesticides In Produce Are You Buying?

How Many Pesticides In Produce Are You Buying?

I highly recommend eating an all-organic diet of fruits and vegetables. It saves your body from the toxic load of pesticides in produce.

If your budget doesn’t allow for this, you can use the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists, both from the EWG’s annual “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” whenever possible as you shop to eliminate the most chemicals and pesticides in produce from your diet. This small step can go a long way to limiting the chemicals and toxins your body can be exposed to from food. Do you wonder how many pesticides are in the produce you are buying? The EWG just released its new list for 2016.

You can use this list to identify conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues – and stop buying the worst offenders, looking for organic, cleaner versions instead!

NOTE: The EWG tests for the pesticides in produce as the food is typically eaten. This means the food is washed and, when applicable, peeled. For example, bananas are peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches are washed. Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis, washing a fruit or vegetable wouldn’t change its ranking.

Shop for Low Pesticide Foods with the EWG Dirty Dozen List


The Dirty Dozen is the nickname for the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables based on the EWG’s testing. This year, non-organic strawberries, the worst offender, would expose your body to the residues of 17 different pesticides. No thanks!

1. Strawberries
2. Apples
3. Nectarines
4. Peaches
5. Celery
6. Grapes
7. Cherries
8. Spinach
9. Tomatoes
10. Sweet bell peppers
11. Cherry tomatoes
12. Cucumbers


EWG also added a “Dirty Dozen Plus” category this year, calling out hot peppers and leafy greens (including kale and collard greens) for their high pesticide contamination. These two groups don’t technically meets the group’s criteria for the “Dirty Dozen,” but both types of produce were shown to be frequently contaminated with pesticides that are considered to be particularly toxic.

“USDA tests of 739 samples of hot peppers in 2010 and 2011 (USDA 2010, 2011) found residues of three highly toxic insecticides — acephate, chlorpyrifos, and oxamyl — on a portion of sampled peppers at concentrations high enough to cause concern. These insecticides are banned on some crops but still allowed on hot peppers.

In tests conducted in 2007 and 2008, USDA scientists detected 51 pesticides on kale and 41 pesticides on collard greens (USDA 2007, 2008). Several of those pesticides — chlorpyrifos, famoxadone, oxydemeton, dieldrin, DDE and esfenvalerate — are highly toxic. Although many farmers may have changed their pesticide practices since 2008, chlorpyrifos and esfenvalerate are still permitted on leafy greens. Organochlorine pesticides DDE and dieldrin were banned some years ago but persist in agricultural soils and still make their way onto leafy greens grown today,” reports the EWG.


EWG’s Clean Fifteen™ is the list of produce least likely to hold pesticide residues. These are your best bet for low-pesticide exposure if you can’t buy an organic version.

1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Frozen Sweet Peas
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwis
11. Eggplant
12. Honeydew Melon
13. Grapefruit
14. Cantaloupe
15. Cauliflower

The EWG reports that nearly three-fourths of the 6,953 produce samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2014 contained pesticide residues. Many people will argue that these levels are regulated to be “safe,” but I highly disagree.

As the EWG  points out, the “safety” levels aren’t designed to protect your health, especially the health of children, who are smaller and have pesticide residue build up more quickly in their bodies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “safety” levels, called “tolerances,” help agency regulators determine whether farmers are applying pesticides properly. If tolerance levels were set to protect all children eating produce, as they should be, more fruits and vegetables would fail.

“The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act required EPA to reevaluate its safety levels by 2006 to ensure they protected consumers from excessive pesticides. As a result, EPA barred some pesticides and restricted others, but EPA rules currently enforce still don’t protect people’s health.

Some liken pesticide tolerances to a 500 m.p.h. speed limit. If the rules of the road are so loose that it’s impossible to violate them, then nobody can feel safe,” says the EWG.


This year’s update of EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ reports that USDA tests found a total 146 different pesticides on thousands of fruit and vegetable samples examined in 2014. The pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables tested by USDA – even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

This is the biggest mistakes I see people make. They assume that the pesticides was washed off, when in fact, they generally aren’t. Buy organic whenever you can.

That said, the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. So while you should use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ to reduce your exposures as much as possible, don’t stop eating conventionally grown produce if it is all you can find or afford. It is still better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all!

We can’t see pesticides on fruits and vegetables, so it can be easy to underestimate just how damaging they are in your body, but it greatly benefits your long-term health to look at this list every year and find the top ways to limit your pesticide exposure. 


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