market display of apples, eggplants, peppers, grapes, green beans, risk of cancer, dirty dozen, better memory

Most health experts emphasize the importance of eating lots of vegetables, but which ones have the least pesticide residue? If you want to avoid pesticides as much as possible, but can’t afford to buy everything organic, which products should you focus on?

The Dirty Dozen for 2018:

Shoppers can use the lists developed by the Environmental Working Group to guide their purchases. The group has just issued its annual report on the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen (EWG April 10, 2018). The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that educates citizens about the environmental hazards found in food, water, cosmetics, household cleaners and other common products.

This year’s list of the most contaminated produce is actually a baker’s dozen. At the top of the list are strawberries, with detectable residues from 20 pesticides. The list goes on to include spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers. When possible, these are products that should be purchased as organic foods. That’s because the conventionally grown products are so often contaminated. Aiming for organic strawberries, apples or spinach is especially important for those feeding children. Young bodies may be more susceptible to negative effects from pesticides.

The Clean Fifteen for 2018:

The EWG also determined the least contaminated produce—the clean fifteen. These are vegetables and fruits you can be confident in eating, whether or not an organic version is available. They include avocados, sweet corn (non-GMO), pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydew melons, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli.

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  1. Sam

    Terry, thank you for responding to questions! Adds a lot of value to the discussion.

  2. Mat Ratra

    I would wash couple of times & add little baking soda while soak for a while. Re-wash again.

  3. Mary

    I understand some papayas are now GMO? Am I correct?

    • Terry Graedon

      Yes. Perhaps 3/4 of the papayas in our stores are from Hawaii, where GMO technology prevented a virus from wiping out the trees completely.
      To avoid GMO papayas and still enjoy papaya, buy organic. On the other hand, even conventional papayas have little to no pesticide residue.

  4. Laura E.

    Can you wash off the pesticides or are they inside of the fruit/vegetable?

    • Terry Graedon

      That depends on the specific food and the pesticide. Most wash off. But using the dirty dozen list to tell you what to buy as organic produce, not conventional, will protect you against both topical and systemic pesticides.

  5. Marti A.

    If I buy frozen fruit such as peaches or nectarines that are peeled will they still be considered on the list of dirty dozen?
    How much good does the spray do when washing off non-organic fruit before consumption?

  6. Joan
    Buffalo, NY

    So now that I know which items are the dirtiest is there a good way of cleaning them once I get them home? I especially am interested in strawberries and how to best clean them. Organic is sometimes out of my price range.

    • Jesse

      Organic produce in season really isn’t all that much more expensive than non-organic if you are a vegetarian. I buy in bulk and freeze the extra. Make my own soups. The high cost of groceries is meat. And expensive jarred sauces you could make at home for pennies instead. And fancy specialty items. I don’t like sweets and I don’t buy cakes, pies, cookies, candy. If I do want something sweet, I have a piece of organic fruit or a Tbls. of Canadian maple syrup. Or a little organic ice cream occasionally in the summer.
      I buy fresh and frozen organic veggies and stay away from expensive extras unless it is something said to be healthy such as wild-caught salmon two or three times a month. And I buy wild salmon when it is on sale. A serving is the size of a deck of cards and not expensive. Home-cooked meals are the best and cleanest. Shopping regularly at Trader Joe’s helps a lot too. Stores are small and not a lot of junk food to tempt the weak! Local grocery stores that have produce sales save money. You don’t have to go to Whole Foods or expensive farmers’ markets for “artisan” food and blow your grocery budget.

  7. Gerry

    Peel everything. Don’t eat exterior peel on tomatoes, apples, or anything else you can peel.

  8. Krista
    Pfafftown NC

    I think fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides or similar chemicals should be OUTLAWED. If the fruit and veggies are too perfect, that should tell people that they are TOO chemicallly produced! There is no way they can be safe! They are slowly making people sick. Think about it ! You can’t wash the pesticides off or even peel them off. They are grown into the produce!

  9. Anne

    I’ve stopped buying strawberries and apples, but I’m sure you’ve seen the prices on organic foods. I don’t know how a lot of families could afford them on a regular basis. In fact, the price of non-organic fruit has skyrocketed in recent years. Even though it’s off topic, I think this might be part of the reason we’re seeing so much obesity. Healthy food is expensive compared to the cheap fillers.

  10. Ernestine

    I would like to know if anyone else has hd trouble with broccoli. I had to stop buying it because it all had white under the bulb, pure white. I have asked many people but no one had a good answer. They said they did not know. I miss brocili because it was my favorite vegetable.

    Any suggestions would be helpful. I tried cooking them, and they were bad so I knew it should not look like that. I h ave found only one or two bunches this year that were free of it.

    • Juliette

      Hi, I assumed that was a different variety of broccoli.

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