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  • Writer's pictureErin & Jaci

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

Updated: Nov 9, 2018

When you go shopping at the grocery store do you ever stop and wonder…what was used to protect these fruits and vegetables from bugs, infection, and the weather? Don’t feel bad if you don’t because you’re not alone! That being said, it will definitely be something that crosses your mind after reading this post!

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released their annual lists last month featuring fruits and vegetables that either have the highest amount of pesticide residue or the lowest amount. These lists are famously known as the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean fifteen”. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) revealed a total of 230 different types of pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on thousands of produce samples. Even more concerning is that many of the chemicals used here in the US have been banned by other countries! Erin and I both use these lists when it comes to deciding whether to buy the organic or conventional variety of certain fruits and vegetables.

Dirty Dozen

Strawberries- Strawberries made the number one spot yet again! In one strawberry sample, 22 pesticide residues were found. One-third of all non-organic strawberry samples contained 10 or more pesticides. Some samples contained carbendazim, a compound that can harm the male reproductive system.

Spinach- 97% of non-organic spinach samples contained pesticide residues with a very high concentration of permethrin, a very toxic insect killer (we use it to kill lice!) that has been associated with causing tremors and seizures, and is more detectable in children with ADHD.

Nectarines- About 94% of nectarines contain 2 or more pesticides. In one sample, 15 different pesticide residues were found.

Apples- 90% of non-organic apples contain pesticide residues. 80% of them contain a high amount of diphenylamine, a pesticide that is actually banned in Europe.

Peaches– More than 99% of non-organic peaches contacted detectable pesticide residues, with an average of 4 different kinds.

Pears- Pears contain very high levels of insect and fungus killer type pesticides. More than half of non-organic pears contained 5 or more different types.

Cherries- 30% of non-organic cherries contained iprodione, a pesticide which has been banned in Europe and has been linked to cancer. An average of 5 different types of pesticides were found on non-organic cherries.

Grapes– More than 96% of non-organic grapes contained an average of 5 different types of pesticides.

Celery– 95% of non-organic celery contained a maximum of 13 different types of pesticides.

Tomatoes– One sample of non-organic tomatoes contained 15 different types of pesticides and pesticide breakdown products! Say WHAT?!?

Sweet Bell Peppers– About 90% of non-organic sweet bell peppers contained pesticide residues. While they contained less different types of residues, the residues they did have are more toxic to our health.

Potatoes– Non-organic potatoes contain more pesticide residue in weight than any other form of produce on the list. The predominant pesticide found on potatoes is chlorpropham, a neurotoxin that attacks our nervous system

*Hot Peppers– Hot peppers have been added as an extra by EWG as they contain residues of some highly toxic pesticides.

Clean 15

Avocados- Fewer than 1% of non-organic avocados contained pesticides, with only one found on a 360-counted sample.

Sweet Corn– Less than 2% contained pesticides, but they still do recommend buying organic as most sweet corn is grown from genetically modified (GMO) crops (a topic for another day).

Pineapples– 90% of non-organic pineapples did not contain any pesticide residues. Only 5 different types were found on a sample that was more than 350 in number.

Cabbage– Only 2 of the 700 cabbages sampled contained more than one type of pesticide residue and 86% containing none.

Onions– Less than 10% of non-organic onions contained pesticide residues and only 3 different types were identified.

Frozen Sweet Peas– 80% of frozen sweet peas did not have any detectable pesticide residues and no sample contained more than 2 types.

Papayas– 80% of non-organic papayas had no detectable pesticide residues. None of the 750 samples contained more than 3 different types.

Asparagus– 90% of samples did not contain any detectable pesticide residue and no sample contained more than 3 different types.

Mangoes– 78% of non-organic mangoes did not contain any pesticide residues and no more than 2 different types were found.

Eggplant– Three-fourths of non-organic eggplants did not contain any detectable pesticide residue no sample contained more than 3 different types.Honeydew– About half of non-organic melons did not contain pesticide residue and no more than 4 types were found.

Kiwi– 65% did not contain any residue and only 6 different types were found.

Cantaloupe– More than 60% did not contain pesticides, with only about 10% containing one.

Cauliflower– About half of the samples did not contain any detectable pesticide residues and no more than 3 different types were identified.

Broccoli– 70% of non-organic broccoli did not contain any pesticide residue and only one in ten broccoli samples contained more than one type.

Why should you even care about pesticide residue on your food? The obvious reason is that it’s not good for your body. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) called the EARTH study revealed a very high association between foods high in pesticides and fertility problems. “Women who reported eating two or more servings per day of produce with higher pesticide residues were 26 percent less likely to have a successful pregnancy during the study than participants who ate fewer servings of these foods. A previous study of male participants found similar associations between consumption of high-residue produce and reproductive health. Both studies drew from couples seeking treatment at a fertility clinic and found that the frequency of eating fruits and vegetables with fewer pesticide residues was not associated with fertility outcomes.” (1)  Pesticide residues have also been associated with ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, certain cancers, Autism, and many other health problems.

The remark that we (Erin & I) always hear is that buying organic is too expensive. Yes, it can be. But like anything, if it’s worth it you will find ways to make it happen. For instance, I always check multiple grocery stores weekly ads to see if the organic fruits and vegetables are on sale. I might have to shop at a different store than my norm, but it’s worth it if the strawberries are $5.99 vs $8.99! Also, check out your local farmer’s market and ask the vendors questions. If they do use pesticides, how many different types and what kind. It might help take the stress off your wallet if you know exactly what you are getting. Lastly, sometimes you just have to grin and bear it and pay the money for what is best for you and your family. I look at this way- I am investing in our overall health and well-being, more importantly my children’s well-being. As a mom I feel a sense of relief knowing the strawberries and apples my girls choose for a snack are as safe as I possibly can have them be. I do have to say though, THANK GOODNESS avocados are on the Clean 15!

Continue to Follow Your Gut,


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