The Environmental Working Group’s Newest “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15”

The Environmental Working Group has released its latest list of the twelve fruits and vegetables that are the most contaminated with pesticides as an update to last year’s list. The nonprofit has also put together a list called the “Clean 15,” the fruits and vegetables lowest in pesticides.

The study was based on data collected from the United States Department of Agriculture of food samples. Before testing, the produce was prepared in a way that is typically eaten, such as washing and peeling, if applicable. The EWG points out that if fruit is not washed, the risk of ingesting pesticides is even higher than indicated on the list.

Of the conventionally grown produce tested by the EWG, at least one pesticide was found on 63% of the samples. Of these samples, ten percent had five or more different pesticides. If a person consumes five servings of fruits and vegetables from the “dirty dozen” list, they would be at risk of consuming 14 different types of pesticides daily.

Topping the list of the dirty dozen are apples, the samples of which tested positive for pesticides almost 98% of the time. Second on the list is celery, which tested positive for pesticides 96 percent of the time. Celery was number one on the dirty dozen list last year. Third were strawberries, which had an astounding amount of pesticides: 13 different types found on one sample. Peaches, coming in at number four, were found to be treated with more pesticides than any other produce. Other types of produce that ranked high on the list are spinach, imported nectarines, and imported grapes (see the full list here).

Among the “dirty dozen,” the EWG found that celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, lettuce, and greens (in this case, kale and collards) were the most likely types of produce to retain pesticides. In addition, these types of produce were treated with multiple types of pesticides; hot peppers were found to have been treated with as many as 97 pesticides.

The EWG also compiled a list dubbed “The Clean 15,” which educates consumers on the fruits and vegetables that have the lowest instances of pesticide residue. Of the produce on the list, no single sample had more than five different types of pesticides. Topping the list are onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, and asparagus (see the full list here). By choosing fruits and vegetables from “The Clean 15,” the risk of ingesting pesticides is reduced by 92 percent.

Among the “clean 15,” asparagus, sweet corn, and onions had no detectable pesticides on 90 percent or more of the samples. The EWG also found that pineapples, avocados, mangoes, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi, watermelon, and grapefruit were the types of produce least likely to be found with pesticide residue.

The EWG categorized pesticide contamination in six different ways:
-Percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
-Percent of samples with two or more pesticides
-Average number of pesticides found on one sample
-Average amount of all pesticides found
-Maximum number of pesticides found on one sample
-Total number of pesticides found

The “dirty dozen” list is helping to dispel myths made by major produce growers such as United Fresh Produce and the Alliance for Food and Farming, who have claimed that their conventionally grown produce is found to be free of pesticide residue between 98 and 99 percent of the time. The Environmental Protection Agency has been instrumental in restricting pesticide use in conventionally grown produce; since 1996, the agency has barred the use of 6,224 pesticides. Under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, the EPA is required to review the safety of each pesticide once every 15 years. The EPA’s goal is to review all currently used pesticides by 2014.

Pesticides have been found to contribute greatly to human health problems, including cancer, toxicity of the brain and nervous system, and hormone disruption. Among the fastest growing usage of pesticides is a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, insecticides which have been found in studies of animals to permanently alter the functions of the nervous system. The EPA has approved six types of neonicotinoids for food uses.

Despite the health concerns of pesticides,  the EWG has pointed out that “the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.” The illuminating data from the EWG indicates that buying organic is a wise choice for fruits and vegetables, especially those ranking highest on the “dirty dozen” list.

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