The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide: Which Produce has the Least Pesticide, and Which has the Most

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It seems like every time we turn around these days we are hearing another reason why our produce is compromised. From pesticides to genetically modified organisms (GMO), it seems that very little food is safe. Well thanks to the handy “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides”, created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), shoppers can now view a full line-up of which produce is the safest to eat, and which they need to make sure they are buying in organic form only.

The EWG, a non-profit organization, puts providing the power of information to all consumers at the top of its priority list, in fact, it is part of the EWG’s mission statement. They aim to make consumer safety information widely and easily accessed by all, and offer a full list of produce, graded on a scale of “dirty to clean.” With the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, you will be able to give yourself as minimal a risk to pesticide exposure as possible, while still making economical grocery purchasing decisions for your family. The EWG understands that, while buying organic produce is ideal, it is not always financially possible, especially in today’s economy. They will provide you information on which non-organic produce items are the safest (such as onions) and which are the “dirtiest”(apples).

EWG has two at-a-glance lists: “The Clean 15” and “The Dirty Dozen.” The EWG says that if you eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day from the Clean 15 list, rather than the Dirty Dozen, you will cut the amount of pesticides you consume on a daily basis by an astonishing 92%. A scarier point they make is that if you eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies from the Dirty Dozen list, you will consume, on average, 14 different pesticides per day.

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The Dirty Dozen list includes (in order from worst to better):

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens

Over 97% of the samples that were taken from non-organic imported apples, nectarines and plums all tested positive for pesticides. Imported and domestic grapes and strawberries all had 13, or more, different pesticides on one single sample. Peaches, apples and raspberries each had a combination of 51, or more, different chemicals on them. On top of that, they found that vegetables such as celery, spinach, lettuce and potatoes like to absorb pesticides and retain those nasty chemicals.

The Clean Fifteen list includes:

  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asaragus
  • Sweet peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

The best veggies were asparagus, sweet corn and onions, with 90% of the samples, or higher, testing with no detectable pesticides. Cabbage, eggplant and sweet peas had detectable pesticides found on 20-25% of them. Of the fruits, pineapple, avocado and mango led the pack, with less than 10% of samples having detectable pesticides.

The EWG took information from the tests ran by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2009. The tests were performed on 53 of the top fruits and vegetables sold in the US, and the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides ranks the produce by degree of pesticide contamination. They note that, in almost all of the tests, the produce samples were first rinsed or peeled. Contamination of pesticides was measured by the percent of samples with detectable pesticides, the percent of samples with two or more pesticides detected, the average number of pesticides found on each sample, the maximum number of different pesticides found on a sample and the total number of pesticides found on a sample.

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The neat thing about the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides is that they offer their produce safety information in different formats to appeal to all shoppers, and make it as easy as possible for shoppers to keep handy. Users can download a PDF version of the shopper’s guide, or a smart phone app. To learn more about the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, and download the PDF or app, visit their website.

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