(The list, not the movie.)
In early March, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. Using data from US Department of Agriculture tests, the EWG ranks conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables based on how many pesticides remain on the produce after it is prepared for consumption. Often the synthetic chemicals found in pesticides can stay on produce even after it is washed or peeled, and even low levels of pesticide exposure can be detrimental to young children’s development.
- Strawberries remained in the number one spot in the Dirty Dozen this year due to the high out-of-season demand for them. Ninety-nine percent of the USDA samples in 2014 and 2015 had detectable residue of at least one pesticide.
- Spinach moved from eighth to second place this year. Seventy-five percent of the samples were found to have residues of permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide which is banned in the EU.
- Pears and potatoes joined the list this year in the sixth and twelfth spots, respectively.
- Sweet corn moved to the top spot on the Clean Fifteen list, knocking avocados down to number two. The Clean Fifteen list tracks produce whose samples were found to have the least amount of pesticide residues, if any.
- The EWG’s lists rank fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticides found on them, not the toxicity of the pesticides themselves. Therefore, while produce high on the Dirty Dozen list may have a lot of pesticide residue, that residue could possibly be less harmful than residue found on a fruit or vegetable from the Clean Fifteen list.
However, according to the EWG website, “Since researchers are constantly developing new insights into how pesticides act on living organisms, no one can say that concentrations of pesticides assumed to be safe today are, in fact, harmless.”
While the EWG’s lists do help to limit your family’s intake of pesticides, this doesn’t mean that you should never buy strawberries again. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to maintain a balanced diet and to avoid consuming too much of one harmful chemical. Buy organic when it’s accessible and affordable for you. A shopper’s guide is available to help you buy foods with fewer types of pesticides when buying organic isn’t an option.