The EWG's 2020 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Guides to Pesticides in Produce

Concerned about pesticides in your food? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) just released their 2020 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list. This handy guide helps you avoid the non-organic fruits and vegetables that are highest in pesticide residues – and helps you choose non-organic items from the Clean Fifteen list. I appreciate it because this reference gives me the confidence to know which foods to buy with fewer types of pesticides and lower overall concentrations of pesticide residues.
For the fifth consecutive year, strawberries top the dirty dozen list. Sadly, they found 22 different pesticides on a single strawberry sample!????

What Is “The Guide?”

The Guide is an annual rating of 48 commonly purchased fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticide residue, based on an analysis of 32,000 samples tested by the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nearly 70 percent of the fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides, according to EWG’s analysis of the latest test data from the federal Department of Agriculture.

For more than a decade, the EWG has been stepping in to provide information to millions of shoppers that the EPA has failed to offer, despite a 1996 "Consumer Right to Know" law that requires it.

This year, the USDA tests found a total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples analyzed – that’s 70% of the conventionally grown produce samples contaminated with pesticide residue. There are also stark differences among various types of produce. Needless to say, these pesticides pose health risks, but luckily for us the EWG’s research and testing makes it easy for consumers to make an educated decision while shopping for produce.

The 2020 Dirty Dozen

There were 47 items included in this analysis, and these twelve foods ranked highest in pesticide residue data, even after carefully washed or peeled. It’s recommended to purchase organically grown versions of these fruits and vegetables to help you skip the toxic chemicals.

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

Key Findings

  • More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, spinach, nectarines, cherries and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
  • Multiple samples of kale showed 18 different pesticides.
  • On average, kale and spinach samples had 1.1 to 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop tested.

The 2020 Clean Fifteen

These 15 items had the lowest amounts of pesticide residues, when grown conventionally, according to EWG’s analysis of the most recent USDA data.  

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn**
  3. Pineapples
  4. Onions
  5. Papayas**
  6. Sweet Peas Frozen
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew Melon
  15. Kiwi

**The majority of sweet corn and papaya sold in the United States are produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce (GMO).

Key Findings 

  • Avocados and sweet corn** were the cleanest, with fewer than 2% of samples showing any detectable pesticides.
  • With the exception of cabbage, all other products on the Clean Fifteen tested positive for four or fewer pesticides.
  • Almost 70 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 7 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.

See the full list of fruits and vegetables from the Environmental Working Group

Pesticides In Raisins

Traditionally, EWG tests pesticides in fresh fruits and vegetables only; however, this year they tested raisins, and YIKES! Almost every sample of non-organic raisins tested – 99 percent – had residues of at least two pesticides. In fact, raisins rank worse of all fruits tested and to think our children are the ones who primarily consume raisins, and they're especially vulnerable to pesticide's horrible side effects.

Why Should I Avoid Pesticides?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "The health effects of pesticides depend on the type of pesticide. Some such as organophosphates and carbamates, affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogens. Others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body." A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found a surprising association between consuming high-pesticide-residue foods and fertility problems.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup week killer, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States and has been popular in the agricultural field for decades. It also comes with a huge impact on our health

Pesticides and Children – An Even Greater Health Risk

  • The National Academy of Sciences reports that children are more susceptible to chemicals than adults and estimates 50% of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs in the first 5 years of life.
  • The EPA reports children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxins.
  • A 2000 study published by the EWG found pesticides such as the weedkiller 2,4-D pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk.
  • Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley found exposure to pesticides while in the womb may increase the odds a child will have ADHD.
  • Pesticides are endocrine hormone disruptors (aka: xenoestrogen), and are extremely harmful to kids. Aside from fruits and veggies, oats also have a history of being high in pesticides, especially glyphosate. 

Why is Organic More Expensive?

Organically grown produce more closely reflects the true price of farming. Government subsidies tend to go towards large-scale, chemically intensive agriculture, lowering the true price of these conventionally grown products. The very practice of growing organic, such as restricted chemical use, better standards of care for animals, and more manual labor, is costlier to the farmer. In order to have the USDA-certified Organic seal on their product, organic farmers must pay for certification costs, which are expensive.

Shopping at your local farmers market can be a good way to save money on organically grown produce, particularly for those items that appear on the Dirty Dozen list. Often, your small, local farmer may employ organic growing practices, even if he/ she has not paid for the organic certification. In addition, you are not paying to have these items shipped from 1/2 way around the globe. These savings are passed on to you, the consumer. Local farmers are happy to talk to you about their growing practices and will often invite you to their farm should you want to verify for yourself.

By releasing this list every year, the EWG empowers consumers who may otherwise find the cost of purchasing all organic produce cost- prohibitive. By referencing The Guide, shoppers are able to select between conventionally grown and organically grown produce with real data backing up their choice.

Shop smart, shop local, and don't leave home without The Guide!

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

 

References:

Y-H Chiu et al., Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake from Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment With Assistance Reproductive Technology. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2018.   

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/health/human.htm

http://www.beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/Pesticide.children.dontmix.pdf

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