Dirty Dozen: Know when it’s important to choose organic

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a report regarding which fruits and vegetables contain the most pesticides. The Dirty Dozen list, as well as the Clean 15 list that accompanies it, are great resources to help us understand when it’s most important to choose organic.

About the EWG and the Dirty Dozen list

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. It’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives.

Each year, EWG conducts research to determine which types of produce contain the highest amount of pesticide residue. 

“Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies and young children, so when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children’s exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. “EWG’s guide can help by giving consumers easy-to-use advice when shopping for their families.”

2017 key findings

The 2017 Dirty Dozen study shows that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides.

The 2017 Dirty Dozen study shows that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides.

  • Pears and potatoes were new additions to the Dirty Dozen list this year, displacing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from last year’s list.
  • Spinach samples in the study had an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Three quarters of spinach samples had residues of a neurotoxic pesticide that Europe has banned from using on their food crops. Some studies show that the pesticide is linked to behavioral disorders in young children.
  • The most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides. That means that there could be that many pesticides in one single strawberry.
  • Almost all samples of spinach, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, apples and cherries tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.

The 2017 Dirty Dozen list

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Just make sure it’s organic!

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Just make sure it’s organic!

Be sure to always buy organic when it comes to the produce on this list:

Strawberries

Spinach

Nectarines

Apples

Peaches

Pears

Cherries

Grapes

Celery

Tomatoes

Sweet bell peppers

Potatoes

Hot peppers

To come up with the rankings for this list, EWG analyzed pesticide residue testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. You can find a list of all 48 fruits and vegetables they tested here.

The 2017 Clean 15 list

Although all 48 fruits and vegetables the EWG tested in the study contained at least 1 pesticide, these contained the fewest:

Sweet corn

Avocados

Pineapples

Cabbage

Onions

Sweet peas frozen

Papayas

Asparagus

Mangos

Eggplant

Honeydew Melon

Kiwi

Cantaloupe

Cauliflower

Grapefruit

The study detected relatively few pesticides in sweet corn.

The study detected relatively few pesticides in sweet corn.

Additional tips for reducing your exposure to pesticides:

  • Note that some sweet corn and papayas are GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). So although they are on the Clean 15 list, it still may be best to choose organic when it comes to these so you can avoid eating GMO versions of these crops.
  • You may notice that many of the fruits and vegetables on the Clean 15 list have hard outer surfaces, like honeydew and cantaloupe. Be sure to still wash the rinds before you cut into the fruit, as pesticides on the rind can seep into it when the knife cuts through.
  • Consider growing your own produce. By growing your own fruits and vegetables, you can make sure everything from the soil to the water you use to nourish them is 100 percent clean and pure.

How to clean your produce

To clean your produce, most studies show that rinsing it under running water for at least 30 seconds is as effective or more effective as using soaps. In fact, studies show that water alone can even remove pesticides that aren’t water soluble by running them off.

However, studies do show that vinegar is effective at killing bacteria. In one study, vinegar killed approximately 98 percent of bacteria on the surface of fresh fruits and vegetables.

To make your own vinegar wash, combine 1 cup of white distilled vinegar with 3 cups of water in a glass spray bottle. Shake well to combine, and spray your produce, rubbing gently to make sure it is fully covered. Finally, rinse the produce with running water for at least 30 seconds.

How to clean your cutting board

Be sure you’re not adding to the pesticides and bacteria on your vegetables by cutting them on a dirty cutting board.

First, sprinkle your cutting board with salt and baking soda. Next, run half a lemon over it, making sure you pay close attention to any scrapes or dents. Using a circular motion, rub the salt and baking soda into the board with the lemon. Finally, rinse thoroughly with hot water.

If you’ve been using your cutting board for meats, too, disinfect it with 3 percent Hydrogen Peroxide. Pour the hydrogen peroxide over the board and rub it in with a clean sponge. Let it stand for a few minutes – you will see it fizz as it kills germs. Finally, wipe it off with a clean sponge.

Looking to clean up your diet?

The water you drink is a great place to start. Did you know that:

  • Some studies show that as many as 25,000 chemicals are lurking in most bottled water.
  • Most medical professionals agree that tap water is safer to drink than bottled water?
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water more closely than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water?

Clean up your diet by drinking pure tap water from stainless steel water bottles that are 100% BPA-free.

What are your favorite Clean 15 recipes?

Have some favorite recipes that incorporate the fruits and vegetables on the Clean 15 list? Let us know in the comments below!