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Which foods made the “Dirty Dozen” list?

Find out which conventionally grown foods top the Dirty Dozen Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce and what the best options are for feeding your family.

In a 2016 Environmental Working Group (EWG) report, strawberries topped the list with the most pesticide residue. When tested by federal officials, strawberries had detectable pesticide residues in 98 percent of the tested crops. For the past five years, apples have topped the list for pesticide detection.

According to EWG, in the tested strawberries 40 percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides and some had residues of 17 different pesticides. Some of the chemicals detected on strawberries are considered relatively benign, but others are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.

Strawberries were once a seasonal, limited crop, but heavy use of pesticides has increased yield and stretched the growing season. In California, where most U.S. strawberries are grown, each acre is treated with as much as 300 pounds of pesticides, according to the EWG report. More than 60 pounds are conventional chemicals that may leave post-harvest residues, but most are fumigants – volatile poison gases that can drift into nearby schools and neighborhoods.

“It is startling to see how heavily strawberries are contaminated with residues of hazardous pesticides, but even more shocking is that these residues don’t violate the weak U.S. laws and regulations on pesticides in food,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst. “The EPA’s levels of residues allowed on produce are too lax to protect Americans’ health. They should be updated to reflect new research that shows even very small doses of toxic chemicals can be harmful, particularly for young children.”

The 2016 Dirty Dozen list includes:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet bell peppers
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

“Parents looking for help in lowering their children’s exposure to pesticides while still eating plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables can turn to the Environmental Working Group’s guide as an easy-to-use resource when shopping at the store,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean of Global Health and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Landrigan was the principal author of the 1993 National Academy of Sciences study, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, which led Congress to pass the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act that set safety standards for pesticides on foods.

Recent studies of insecticides used on some fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, found that children exposed to high levels were at greater risk of impaired intelligence and ADHD. The research cited by EWG also indicates the levels of pesticides in the bodies of elementary school children peaked during the summer, when they ate the freshest produce. But after just five days on an organic diet, they were essentially pesticide-free.

The Dirty Dozen lists the fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated by multiple pesticides and which have higher concentrations of pesticides. More than 98 percent of strawberries, peaches, nectarines and apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.

The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated every year since 2004, ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables. EWG’s analysis is based on results of more than 35,200 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. This year’s update found a total of 146 different pesticides on fruit and vegetable samples tested in 2014 – residues that remain on produce even after items are washed and in some cases peeled.

Find the Dirty Dozen at EWG.


Photo: Pierrette Wiseman // CC BY

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