Nearly 70 percent of conventionally grown produce is contaminated with pesticides, and some foods are dangerously worse than others, especially for children. Here are the top “Dirty Dozen” ranked by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in its annual Dirty Dozen Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
Here is the 2019 Dirty Dozen list:
EWG found the most contaminated sample of strawberries had 22 different pesticides. Ninety-eight percent of conventionally grown spinach samples contained almost twice as much pesticide residue by weight compared to any other crop. The pesticide residues had high concentrations of a neurotoxic pesticide banned in Europe for use on food crops. It’s part of a class of pesticides that recent studies link to behavioral disorders in young children. Kale made the list for the first time.
The EWG analysis of tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides. USDA researchers found a total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples they analyzed. The pesticide residues remained on fruits and vegetables even after they were washed, and in some cases, peeled.
“It is vitally important that everyone eats plenty of produce, but it is also wise to avoid dietary exposure to toxic pesticides, from conception through childhood,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst. “With EWG’s guide, consumers can fill their fridges and fruit bowls with plenty of healthy conventional and organic produce that isn’t contaminated with multiple pesticide residues.”
Lunder said it’s especially important to reduce young children’s exposures to pesticides. The pesticide industry and chemical agriculture maintain that pesticides on produce are nothing to worry about, but doctors and scientists strongly disagree.
“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.
Landrigan, dean of Global Health and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai, was the principal author of a landmark 1993 National Academy of Sciences study, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. The study led to enactment of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act that set safety standards for pesticides on foods.
By contrast, EWG’s Clean Fifteen™ list of produce least likely to contain pesticide residues, or lower residues, include:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melons
Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest, with less than one percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbages had no pesticide residues. No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen tested positive for more than four pesticides.
For more information, visit EWG.