In fact, strawberries top the 2018 list of the Dirty Dozen – compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.
The nauseating truth is: although organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides have been linked to neurological damage, pediatric cancers and higher rates of ADHD in children (along with fertility problems in adults), these toxic chemicals are still in use on food crops we eat every day.
Unfortunately, pesticide residue can persist in fruits and vegetables even when they are carefully washed and peeled. So, today, we’ll feature the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and reveal the Clean 15.
To arrive at their annual list of the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” produce, the EWG uses research conducted by the USDA. From a pool of 38,000 produce samples, the agency found that nearly 70 percent of conventionally-grown (non-organic) fruits, greens and vegetables were contaminated with pesticide residue.
And, with some fruits and leafy greens – a group that includes strawberries, spinach, nectarines, peaches and apples – contamination was found in a shocking 98 percent of the samples.
While “the more, the merrier” might be a good philosophy for parties, it’s a stomach-turning concept when it comes to multiple toxic chemicals in food. The EWG reports that the USDA identified a total of 230 different pesticides, and their breakdown products, on produce that was conventionally grown.
The “winners” of the Dirty Dozen feature multiple pesticides and high rates of contamination
Here, in order, are the 12 “dirtiest” foods – and a short mention of their contamination highlights (or “lowlights”).
With a 98 percent contamination rate, strawberries are the undisputed champions, with one-third of all conventional samples containing 10 or more pesticides – and 22 different pesticides in one particularly toxin-laden sample.
Non-organic spinach, with high concentrations of neurotoxic permethrin, contained almost twice as much pesticide residue, by weight, as any other food on the list.
Nectarines can contain 15 different pesticides.
And four-fifths of all conventionally-grown apples were found to contain diphenylamine, a pesticide banned in Europe.
Over 96 percent of grapes tested positive for pesticides.
Peaches averaged four different pesticides per sample.
One-third of all samples of cherries contained iprodione, which has been banned in Europe as a possible carcinogen.
Pears may contain not only pesticides but also fungicides such as Captan, a member of the thalidomide family of chemicals.
Tomatoes averaged four different pesticides per sample.
More than 95 percent of sampled (non-organic) celery tested positive for pesticides.
And, high proportion of potatoes was found to contain chlorpropham, an herbicide that inhibits sprouting. By the way, in high doses, chlorpropham is a central nervous system depressant.
Rounding out the Dirty Dozen are sweet bell peppers.
And, although they contain fewer pesticides than other produce, the EWG reports that the types of pesticides they do contain are generally more toxic.
For the first time, the EWG added a 13th food to the list – a special “(Dis-?) Honorable Mention” tacked on for good measure.
739 samples of hot peppers revealed residues of acephate, chlorpyrifos and oxamyl – a trio of toxins which have been banned from use on many other food crops.
Here’s an encouraging food news update: Earlier this month, a federal court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban chlorpyrifos from commercial agriculture. The pesticide had been “under review” until 2022 – as per a decision by former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
But, in banning the pesticide, the court issued a sharp rebuke to the EPA for “stalling” on the matter.
Featuring the Clean 15: Avocados and sweet corn top the list
Avocados head up the “Clean 15,” with less than 1 percent found to contain pesticide residue.
Corn was squeaky-clean as well – with less than 2 percent of the samples showing any detectable residue. However, the EWG reports that some corn is grown from Roundup Ready (glyphosate-resistant) bioengineered GM seeds. To avoid GMOs, always buy organic sweet corn.
90 percent of tested pineapples got a clean bill of health where pesticides were concerned.
Out of 700 sampled heads of cabbage, only two contained multiple pesticide residues – while over 90 percent of onions were pesticide-free.
Roughly 80 percent of both frozen sweet peas and papayas had no pesticide residues – while asparagus was found to be 90 percent pesticide-free.
78 percent of mangoes were “clean,” with no more than two pesticides found on those that did contain residue.
Three-quarters of all tested eggplants were pesticide-free, as were half of all honeydew melons. 65 percent of kiwifruit were pesticide-free, with no more than six pesticides found.
More than 60 percent of all cantaloupes were pesticide-free – and only about one in ten had more than one pesticide residue.
Cauliflower and broccoli round out the “Clean 15,” with the former 50 percent free of pesticide residue and the latter 70 percent free.
Fact: Buying organic produce will help you minimize pesticide exposure
According to the EWG, organic produce is not completely free of pesticides. But, unlike conventional farming, organic farming uses only organic pesticides such as copper and sulfur.
In order to be certified organic, produce must be grown without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides, GMOS or fertilizers based on petroleum or sewage sludge.
(Note: In addition to sweet corn, a small proportion of papaya and summer squash may be produced from GM seeds. To play it safe, buy organic versions of these foods).
Of course, organic farming is also more sustainable (and humane for animals) – and yields foods that are fresher, tastier and better for you and the environment.
From helping to protect against cancer to helping to maintain healthy weight; from protecting cognitive function to preserving eyesight, fresh fruits and vegetables are true disease-fighting heroes. Simply put, choosing organic produce allows you to consume the very best versions of this healthy fare – and to skip the unwanted “side order” of toxic chemicals.
Sources for this article include: