Environmental Working Group’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce 

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

The Environmental Working Group’s 2017 edition of the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce is based on analysis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program report. While eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they’re grown, try to buy USDA organic when shopping for items with the heaviest pesticide loads.

“Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the most pesticide residue:

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

A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides!

More than 98 % of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.

Spinach samples had, on average, twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.

“Clean 15” produce with the least likelihood to contain pesticide residue:

  1. Sweet corn*
  2. Avocados
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Frozen sweet peas
  7. Papayas*
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangos
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Grapefruit

* A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables:

Whether the produce you buy is organic or not, it’s important to always wash it. While The Clean Fifteen has less pesticide residue than The Dirty Dozen, washing produce ensures that you’re consuming the least amount possible. Avoid washing fruits and veggies with soap or detergent. Do:

  • Wash your hands ahead of preparing fruit and veggies.
  • Place fruits and veggies in a bowl in your sink and fill with cold distilled water,* or very clean, cold tap water, for 2-3 minutes.
  • For fruits and veggies with more ridges and angles (like broccoli and cauliflower), let them soak a few minutes longer.
  • For produce with thick skin, use a use a gentle vegetable brush to help rinse away additional pesticides and microbes.
  • Drain your sink and dry your fruits and veggies.

*Distilled water is purified and filtered to remove contaminants.

Reference: Environmental Working Group (EWG). https://www.ewg.org, 03/09/17 and https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean_fifteen_list.php.

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