What You Need To Know About This Year's "Dirty Dozen" List

Photographed by Alice Gao.
For the second year in a row, strawberries come in first on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) annual "Dirty Dozen" list of foods carrying pesticide residue. But before you go all Tom Brady on those berries, take a sec — the list isn't as scary as it sounds.
The list is meant to rank (non-organic) produce in terms of the amount of pesticide residue it carries. That means that, this year, strawberries had the most residue, followed by spinach, nectarines, apples, and peaches. Conversely, sweet corn, avocados, and pineapples lead this year's "Clean 15" list, meaning they had the least amount of residue.
But it's not totally clear how seriously we should be taking these rankings. As we wrote last year, the lists usually garner a considerable amount of criticism. That's because the data that the EWG uses to compile the list comes from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) database, which tracks the amount of residue found through testing, but says nothing about whether or not that poses any risk for your health.
On top of that, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Toxicology actually put the Dirty Dozen list to the test — and found nothing. As the study authors write, "[Our] findings suggest that the potential consumer risks from exposure to the most frequently detected pesticides on the 'Dirty Dozen' list of foods are negligible and cast doubts as to how consumers avoiding conventional forms of such produce items are improving their health status."
So there's really no conclusive evidence that you need to spend time worrying about whether your strawberries are organic or not. If you still want to sub your berries for the organic version (which may still carry some pesticide residue), feel free to do you. Just don't take this as an excuse to skip out on that nutritious produce.

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