Avoiding The Dirty Dozen

If you want to eliminate the potential for chemicals and toxins in your food, you can do it in a number of ways. One is by avoiding the dirty dozen. The dirty dozen is the name given to produce that contains higher amounts of pesticides and chemicals. Each year, the USDA takes samples of fruits and vegetables found in groceries across the country and tests them for 230 pesticides and the residue left when those pesticides break down. The samples are from produce grown in the conventional manner. The EWG—Environmental Working Group—then uses that list to identify not only the “Dirty Dozen,” those with the most pesticides—even after washing and peeling, but also the “Clean Fifteen,” the least amount of residue.

Why should you be concerned?

Since pesticides are used to kill living organisms, consuming them can’t be that healthy. In fact, they’ve been linked to a number of conditions that include cancer, disorders of the brain and nervous system and hormone disruption. One study showed that women consuming two or more servings of produce with higher pesticide residue reduced their likelihood of a successful pregnancy by 26 percent. Another study using male participants found similar results. Neither study found there was an association to lower fertility if people ate the fruits and vegetables lower in pesticide residue.

A whopping 70 percent of the samples of traditional farming methods were contaminated.

Not all fruits and vegetables need to be organic to be safe. Some make it to the clean 15 for a variety of reasons. Either they have a natural barrier, like a thick skin that isn’t eaten or they don’t use a lot of pesticides, such as onions, which are natural pesticides. Choosing organic when consuming the “dirty dozen” is a strong option. The most contaminated was strawberries, followed by spinach. The rest of the list included apples, nectarines, peaches, grapes, pears, celery, potatoes, tomatoes and sweet bell peppers.

Sticking with safer fruits and vegetables when not buying organic is the way to go.

EWG was thorough in their recommendations. They didn’t stop at telling you what to be wary of if you’re not buying organic. They also included foods you could feel comfortable purchasing whether organic or traditionally grown. That’s the “Clean Fifteen.” The list included foods with thick skins, such as avocados and veggies with their own natural pesticide, like onions. It also included sweet corn, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, pineapple, papaya, asparagus, eggplant, mangoes, honeydew and cantaloupe melons, kiwis, broccoli and cauliflower.

  • Using the list of both the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” can save you money. Buy organic when shopping for those laden with pesticides and save money by purchasing traditionally grown fruits and vegetables with minimal pesticide content.
  • Strawberries and spinach had the most incidence of pesticides. The average spinach sample had almost two times (1.8) the amount of residue from pesticide when judged by weight, than any other fruit or vegetable.
  • The list does not contain information on GMO produce. If you’re avoiding GMO products, most papayas, some sweet corn, yellow squash and zucchini qualify for the GMO list. Buying the organic alternative for these fruits and vegetables eliminates the problem.
  • The EWG website expanded their criteria to include hot peppers. Toxic pesticides oxamyl, acephate and chlorpyrifos, which have been banned on other vegetables are still allowed for use on hot peppers.

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