The Dirty Dozen: Which Produce Should I Always Buy Organic?
For four years running, strawberries have topped the EWG's Dirty Dozen list. According to USDA data collected from 2015 to 2016, conventionally-grown strawberries contained far more pesticide residues than other fresh produce, even after rinsing. In fact, one test in particular uncovered 23 different pesticides present on strawberry samples. The EWG assert that while some of the chemicals used on strawberries are harmless, others have been linked to cancer and neurological issues.
For many years, conventional strawberries, specifically those grown in California, have been sprayed with a toxic fumigant called methyl bromide to control pests. 2017 marked the first year that farmers were not allowed to use this fumigant, but the EWG reports that other potentially harmful fumigants have taken their place. For these reasons, the EWG reccomends buying organic strawberries for the time being.
Conventional spinach is the worst offender of all leafy greens. In fact, USDA data shows that conventional spinach contains more pesticide residues by weight than any other produce tested. Samples have been shown to contain a pesticide residue called neurotoxins, which may attack nerve tissue, causing long-term health problems. The frozen variety isn’t much better, so stick with organic spinach whenever possible.
New to the Dirty Dozen list this year is everyone's favorite leafy green—kale. The EWG notes that kale's popularity has soared in recent years, but conventional growing methods have been associated with a slew of pesticides. After analyzing USDA data from 2017, the EWG found that nearly 60% of conventional kale samples contained a potentially carcinogenic pesticide called Dacthal. According to the EWG, this pesticide has been banned in the European Union since 2017, but it is still used on crops like kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, eggplants, and turnips in the U.S. Given its nutrient-dense profile, you shouldn't shy away from eating kale, so stick to organic varieties when possible.
This ruby-hued, soft-skinned fruit dropped to the #4 slot on the EWG's list this year, but it still ranks near the top. Because nectarines are closely related to peaches, they also carry many of the same pesticide issues. Similarly, the EWG found that 98% of all conventional nectarines carried at least one pesticide residue. Choose organic varieties.
Rinsing is said to have little effect on removing apples’ long list of pesticide residues, according to the EWG. Conventionally-grown apples are typically treated with a chemical called diphenylamine, which helps to preserve the color of the skins during storage. Peeling the skin may help remove this chemical, but this is also where much of the apple’s nutritional benefits lie. Stick to organic—and consider organic varieties of apple juice and applesauce, too.
According to a previous EWG study, a single conventional grape contained 15 different types of pesticides. Thin skins on grapes provide little to no defense against these potentially harmful chemicals, so go organic—and also consider organic raisins and even wine.
Pesticide use on peaches is widespread due to their delicate nature and attraction to pests. According to the EWG’s report, 98% of all conventional peaches contained at least one pesticide residue. Our suggestion: Buy organic.
Cherries made the EWG's list for the second year in a row. Over 90% percent of the cherry samples tested positive for two or more pesticide residues. We recommend opting for organic versions.
Making the Dirty Dozen list for the second year in a row, pears are high ranking due to a dramatic increase in pesticide use. The amount of pesticide residue on pears has more than doubled since 2010 and more than 20 varieties were found on samples.
A large amount of tomato samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. We recommend opting for organic versions.
Celery topped the EWG’s list in 2010. While this green stalky veggie has improved its score since then, it still contains higher than average pesticide residues. Similar to grapes, celery’s lack of protective skin makes it a prime target for chemical absorption.
Potatoes round out the Dirty Dozen list this year. Because they are tuberous stems that grow deep in the soil, potatoes absorb pesticides sprayed above the ground like a sponge. Buy organic when possible, or at least peel conventionally grown spuds.