Have you heard of “The Dirty Dozen”? No, not the 1967 movie. Every year, Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the top twelve produce items that contain the most pesticide residue of forty-eight fruits and vegetables tested by the US Department of Agriculture. In 2017, one hundred seventy-eight different pesticides were found in the produce tested. In fact, 70% of the items tested contained at least one. This residue remains even after we clean and peel produce. (1)
Opposite to the Dirty Dozen is the Clean Fifteen: a list of fifteen popular items that test with the least amount of contaminants. Foods on this list are safest to eat if conventionally grown from a pesticide perspective. You can find EWG’s Clean Fifteen list here.
What’s the Risk?
Pesticides kill weeds, insects, fungus, rodents, and more. Safe to say, they’re not friendly to living creatures. Without these natural predators and pests, crops grow more quickly and effectively.
Although these foods are meant for human consumption, they aren’t exactly safe for humans either.
According to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine:
“Pesticides may also cause harm. Some can damage the environment and accumulate in ecosystems. And depending on dose, some pesticides can cause a range of adverse effects on human health, including cancer, acute and chronic injury to the nervous system, lung damage, reproductive dysfunction, and possibly dysfunction of the endocrine and immune systems.” (2)
Pesticide toxicity in children is of special concern, as their metabolisms and growth are different from adults. Acceptable pesticide residue levels that have been established by the US government don’t take this fact into account. However, a special National Academy of Sciences committee was convened to discover how pesticides specifically affect children (0-18).
“The committee found that infants and children differ both qualitatively and quantitatively from adults in their exposure to pesticide residues in foods…To ensure that infants and children are not exposed to unsafe levels of pesticide residues, the committee recommends that EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] modify its decision-making process for setting tolerances so that it is based more on health considerations than on agricultural practices.” (3) (Ibid.)
Top 5 Dirty Dozen Foods
Following are the Top Five of 2017’s Dirty Dozen (you can find the entire list of produce here). Avoid them like poison…because they are.
- Strawberries – the most contaminated sample contained residues of twenty different pesticides. Now that’s a chemical cocktail!
- Spinach – had twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other item tested. Seventy-five percent of the samples contained a pesticide banned in Europe. The chemical contains neurotoxins that have been associated with child behavioral disorders. (4)
- Nectarines – the texture of nectarines and peaches seems to absorb pesticides like a sponge. In the 2012 EWG report, nectarines actually had the most overall weight of pesticides of any fruit or vegetable. (5)
- Apples – this fruit staple was Number One on the list for many years; it’s now in fourth place, which is a good thing. Still, always go for organic when buying apples.
- Peaches – like nectarines, peaches soak in surrounding pesticides. These fruits can contain up to 62 pesticides residues: 8 are known or probable carcinogens, 24 are suspected hormone disruptors, 12 are neurotoxins, and 9 are developmental or reproductive toxins (6).
The top offenders tend to be the same from year to year. The rest of 2017’s Dirty Dozen include pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes.