Dirty Dozen: These 12 Fruits + Veggies Are Drenched in Pesticides

Written by Sue Mosebar

The Dirt Dozen

I’m all about saving money whenever I can. And let’s face it, groceries can be expensive—darn expensive.

So, it’s easy to question whether or not organic produce, which according to Consumer Reports is, on average, 47% more expensive, is really worth it. Even more importantly, most people perceive that buying organic is considerably more expensive, and studies consistently show that price—whether real or perceived—is the major obstacle holding people back from buying organic foods.

Simply put, it can be pretty tempting to skip the organic section altogether, especially if you’re trying to save some cash. After all, cauliflower is cauliflower, right? Yet the old saying is often true: You get what you pay for.

Why Eat Organic?

There are several reasons to go organic. As Coach Josh recently explained:

“The benefits of eating organic—particularly produce—are that produce grown under organic standards have been shown to provide significantly greater amounts of powerful compounds called phytochemicals (i.e., plant chemicals)—which have potent fat-fighting, age-defying, antioxidant properties—while reducing exposure to potentially harmful pesticide residues, heavy metals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“In other words, you get a lot more of the good stuff and less of the potentially harmful stuff—pretty much a great trade-off any way you look at it.”

In addition, many people tend to purchase organic because they’re concerned about sustainability and to support environmentally-friendly farming practices. In terms of limiting your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, it turns out that there are times when organic produce is even more important than others.

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen

Since 1993, the Environmental Working Group, or “EWG” for short, has fought for consumers’ rights to live healthier lives in a healthy environment. Recognizing the continued use of large amounts of toxic pesticides in conventional farming, in 2004, the EWG started providing the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, which ranks the 48 most popular conventional fruits and veggies, according to pesticide contamination.

The EWG refers to the most pesticide-laden produce as the Dirty Dozen, which would be best purchased organic. This is a fantastic resource for those of us who are looking to maximize the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables while limiting our exposure to toxic pesticides—and stick to our budget to boot!

Here’s the Dirty Dozen list for 2017:

1) Strawberries
2) Spinach
3) Nectarines
4) Apples
5) Peaches
6) Pears
7) Cherries
8) Grapes
9) Celery
10) Tomatoes
11) Sweet bell peppers
12) Potatoes

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So, if you want to limit your exposure to pesticides (who doesn’t?!), then keep this list on your phone or in your wallet.

The Clean Fifteen

The Clean Fifteen

On the other end of the spectrum, the EWG also publishes the Clean Fifteen™, which is a list of the conventional produce with few, if any, pesticide residues detected.

Here’s the Clean Fifteen List:

1) Sweet corn
2) Avocados
3) Pineapples
4) Cabbage
5) Onions
6) Sweet peas (frozen)
7) Papayas
8) Asparagus
9) Mangos
10) Eggplant
11) Honeydew melon
12) Kiwi
13) Cantaloupe
14) Cauliflower
15) Grapefruit

Who else is thrilled to see both avocados and cauliflower on the Clean Fifteen?

While it still may be better to eat organic when you can, it may not be financially feasible all the time. That average of 47% has a big impact! Use these extremely helpful lists to limit your exposure to toxic pesticides (like those in the Dirty Dozen)—and prevent your wallet from getting a hole in it. At the end of the day, maybe cauliflower is cauliflower—or at least pretty close.

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More From Sue Mosebar

  • url

    where does oranges fit?

    • Cristina

      Hi url. Excellent question!

      In most of the studies conducted on organophosphates, we see people are at greatest risk for exposure when eating foods like green beans, watermelon, tomatoes, and so on. Furthermore, pesticide, herbicide, and insecticide residue is the greatest factor one must consider when buying foods for their own personal health.

      This means we are better off buying organic foods when the skin is edible (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, apples, etc.), and buy conventionally-farmed foods when the skin is thick and/or removable (e.g., bananas, oranges, onions, etc.).

      The EWG rates oranges as #27 on their comprehensive list of pesticide residue found in fruits and vegetables. You may access the EWG’s full report through the following link:

      Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

      That being said, it is possible for foods to transport herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides through their roots, leaves, stems, and so on. I certainly cannot deny that, and it is possible the soil in conventionally-farmed foods is potentially contaminated. However, the degree to which these contaminants enter the food itself is minimal at best.

      Soil contamination is a big topic for discussion, and I agree that measures should be taken to ensure our environment stays intact. We can
      all do better to improve our local and regional environments, and if it were possible to completely overhaul our current economy and agricultural practices, I would certainly push folks in that direction.

      The following article has some additional food for thought:

      The Truth About Eating Organic

  • Jim

    What about broccoli you did not mention broccoli on either list?

    • Cristina

      Good eagle eye, Jim. Broccoli would be considered one of the vegetables that contains lower pesticide residue, for sure. It just didn’t happen to make the cut off for the “Clean Fifteen”. Broccoli is listed a bit further down on the list, but some folks may argue that since it is a relative of the cabbage family, it could fall under that umbrella.

      Little fun fact about broccoli: Did you know that broccoli is actually a man made food? And despite this, it is not considered a GMO. Confusing, right?

      To be labeled as GMO, the food must have been produced from organisms in which specific changes were introduced into their DNA through genetic engineering. Broccoli was developed from selective breeding techniques in which the desired traits were naturally occurring, even if they were considered anomalies.

      We can thank the Italians for selectively breeding wild cabbage, bringing us broccoli, which has been causing stubborn showdowns at dinner tables all around the world between moms and kids for centuries.

  • marku

    On the clean 15 list, sweet corn and papayas may not have pesticide, but have an unacceptably high probability of being genetically engineered (GMO) So, Don’t buy them unless they are organic or verified to be non-gmo. There are some verified non- gmo foods that are not verifiable as organic due to the strict requirements and testing of soil which may be in the process of remediation from previous chemical exposure.

    • Cristina

      Hi Marku. Thank you so much for sharing this information with our readers. We value your contributions, and appreciate your point of view.

      The topic of genetically modified foods can be a bit controversial, and while many people are familiar with the terminology “non-GMO,” I don’t always get the sense that people really understand what it means and the potential impact. That’s why it’s helpful for individuals like yourself to dedicate themselves to sharing information.

      The FDA has deemed genetically modified foods safe, but they remain controversial. If you want to avoid genetically modified foods in your diet, your suggestions of only buying certified organic or non-GMO are one way. Growing your own food would be another viable option.

      This would be an excellent topic for a blog article, Marku. Stay tuned.

  • Milton Kadler

    Hi there, I have heard that soaking/washing veggies in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water actually removes the pesticides that remain on the skin. Is this true and have you ever heard this info? I do it but have no way of gauging its effectiveness. Also strawberries are my favourite, seems they are number one on the list. I have yet to find one shop here in New Zealand that sells organic strawberries, guess I’ll have to grow my own. Cheers

    • Cristina

      Greetings, Milton. Excellent question.

      While no method is 100% effective at removing pesticide from your fresh fruits and vegetables, I would be more than happy to share some recommendations for how to reduce pesticide residue, dirt, and germs.

      According to the National Pesticide Information Center, holding the fruit or vegetable under flowing water is the best method to remove pesticides, as this removes more than dunking the produce. They caution against washing fruits and vegetables with detergent or bleach solutions, as many types of fresh produce are porous and could absorb these chemicals.

      I have also heard of folks using a mixture of vinegar and water to clean fruits and vegetables, and while this is a safe and natural way to remove contaminants, I would be concerned with this affecting the texture and/or taste of the food.

      The Colorado State University Extension has an excellent resource which may be helpful in discovering the safest and most effective way to clean fresh produce:

      Guide To Washing Fresh Produce</a

  • Laura Thompsonltdonellan

    Hi, How can you possible call corn CLEAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s Geneticly Modified Sorry I can’t belive anything you say after that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • boknaai

    What about carrots? I see no mention. Rgds Kobus

    • Cristina

      Hello Kobus. Good looking out! Carrots fall somewhere in the middle, so despite not making the “Clean Fifteen” list, they are not the worst food out there in terms of pesticides.

      The EWG rates carrots as #25 on their comprehensive list of pesticide residue found in fruits and vegetables. You may access the EWG’s full report through the following link:

      Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

      Regardless of where my produce comes from, I have become accustomed to washing everything thoroughly before consuming. Since I am not always privy to the country of origin for many of my supermarket produce items, I treat every food item the same. For produce with soft skin (e.g. peaches) I just rinse under running water and rub gently either with my hand or a soft cloth. For produce that has tougher skin (e.g. potatoes, carrots), I have a vegetable brush that I scrub the outside of the vegetables with under running water.

      Consumer reports still believe organic is always the best first choice. One such report states “Not only does eating organic lower your personal
      exposure to pesticides, but choosing organic you support a sustainable agriculture system.”

      If you are interested in exploring this report more in depth, it may be found here:

      Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide</a