Compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Dirty Dozen shows there can be some pretty scary stuff on that apple, while the Clean Fifteen demonstrates healthy eating doesn’t always have to be as expensive as it’s sometimes made out to be. Though co-ops and some CSAs can help cut costs, they don't help the fact that unless you're growing your own, you really don't know what's coming along with that tempting fruit or veggie.
Now in its tenth year, the lists draw from 32,000 samples of 48 popular produce items tested by USDA and FDA scientists. Some "dirty" items were found to contain up to fifteen different pesticides, whereas the only 5.5% of the Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides present. Rather not commit those stats to memory? These lists make a bookmark-worthy cheat sheet for simplifying your shopping choices.
The Dirty Dozen (Better To Buy Organic)
7. Sweet Bell Peppers
8. Nectarines (Imported)
10. Cherry Tomatoes
11. Snap Peas (Imported)
The Clean Fifteen (Save Money, Buy Conventional)
2. Sweet Corn
5. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
15. Sweet Potatoes
Check out the EWG's full rankings to see which items land somewhere between the two lists, or read on for more insight into the produce problem.
You may have been under the impression that thicker skins — for instance, the substantial, spiky rind on pineapples — mean fewer pesticides reach the edible stuff, but these lists show that’s not always the case. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know there are some conventionally grown crops the EWG considers plenty safe to purchase. (Side note: The jury’s still out on whether or not an organic label equals nutritionally superior food.)
While pesticides increase production, help stock supermarket shelves with high-quality food (free of blemishes and contamination), decrease cost to the consumer, and even protect us from some insect-carrying diseases, studies show they are toxic to the nervous system. They've been linked to serious health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, poisoning, and cancerous tumors. After all, they are designed to destroy living things, such as insects, weeds, and fungi, that may get in the way of producing an abundant yield.
Chemicals found in pesticides can be a danger to our health, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been handed a free pass to not eat our fruits and vegetables. The dirty dozen is certainly not meant to push consumers away from the produce section but, rather, according to the EWG, to “fill the void left by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has largely failed to tell Americans they have a right to know about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways they can reduce pesticides in their diets.” With knowledge of each year’s list, consumers can choose to lower pesticide intake simply by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables when an all-organic diet may be out of reach.
How does this information impact your own shopping habits? Are you an avid clean-fifteen, conventional buyer? Or is it organic all the way?