When we all are looking for ways to live safely and eat healthy, it can help to know which produce also has the smallest risk from pesticides. Here are the top “Dirty Dozen” and a dried fruit ranked by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in its annual Dirty Dozen Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

Nearly 70 percent of conventionally grown produce is contaminated with pesticides, and some foods are dangerously worse than others, especially for children.

The EWG found that the dirtiest produce commodity is not a fresh fruit or vegetable, but a dried one – raisins. Ninety-nine percent of non-organic raisins tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had residues of up to 26 different pesticides, and 84 percent tested positive for at least one neonic. These are the pesticides linked to rapidly declining bee populations. The USDA estimates Americans consumed about 1.25 pounds of raisins per person in 2017, the most current year for USDA data.

EWG “Dirty Dozen”

The top 2020 Dirty Dozen list includes:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

With the rapid onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the EWG recommends that consumers should continue eating plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables, whether they are grown conventionally or organically. To protect consumers, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Food and Drug Administration recommend all produce, cutting boards and surfaces where food is prepared should be thoroughly washed with soap and water. Other safety tips include peeling produce when possible, removing outer layers of leafy greens and cooking vegetables.

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.

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.

“Infants, babies and young children are exquisitely vulnerable to even low levels of pesticide exposure, so it’s important parents and caregivers take steps to safeguard children from these chemicals while also providing them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a world-renowned pediatrician and epidemiologist. “For many Americans, choosing an all-organic diet is not possible, so using EWG’s guide can help give consumers the tools to provide their families with a mix of both conventional and organic fruits and veggies without the pesticide punch.”

Landrigan, director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good in the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society at Boston College, 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.

EWG “Clean Fifteen”

By contrast, EWG’s Clean Fifteen list of produce least likely to contain pesticide residues, or lower residues, include:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onion
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Kiwi

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.

Photo: Photo: Andrey Filippov / CC