The Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen report claims strawberries, spinach and nectarines have the most pesticide residues.
Now that’s berry disgusting.
The Environmental Working Group released its Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables – an annual shoppers’ guide to contaminants in conventionally grown (non-organic) produce that ranks the ones with the most pesticide residues – and strawberries topped the list for the third year in a row.
The EWB, a nonprofit for better human and environmental health (which is funded by several big organic marketers) analyzed nearly 39,000 Department of Agriculture tests of 47 fruits and vegetables. It found almost 70% of conventional produce contain pesticide residues, and almost all strawberries, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples (98%) contained at least one pesticide.
And in ranking the dozen pieces of produce with the highest concentration of contaminants, it found that one-third of all conventional strawberry samples contained 10 or more pesticides, and one sample that it collected had 22 pesticide residues.
Spinach was the second-dirtiest piece of produce in the report, with 97% of samples containing pesticide residues, particularly high concentrations of permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide. It also found that leafy green samples had 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight on average than any other crop. Nectarines came in third, followed by apples and grapes.
Americans spend nearly $50 billion on organic products annually, according to the Organic Trade Association’s most recent data, and that has grown from $1 billion in 1990. Yet while more Americans are developing a taste for organic food — largely driven by the roughly 75% of millennials buying organic — it’s still a relatively small slice of the produce market, as just under 14% of all fruits and vegetables sold are organic. Organic foods as a whole make up just under 5% of total food sales.
But don’t toss your non-organic strawberries and spinach just yet, as there are some limitations to this report. It didn’t publish the same data on organic produce, for instance, which has comparable levels of pesticide traces — which would make organic produce just as “dirty” as as these conventional samples. A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman told Moneyish that the most recent Pesticide Data Program summary published in February found that more than 99.5% of its 10,000-plus samples had pesticide residues well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety levels.
But if you’re curious as to which pieces of produce in your fridge like contain the most pesticide residues, here’s the Dirty Dozen:
- Sweet bell peppers
The EWG also highlights a Clean 15 list of fruits and veggies with the least amount of pesticides — where no single fruit sample tested positive for more than four pesticides — and millennial-favorite avocado took the top spot, followed by sweet corn and pineapples. Here’s the Clean 15:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
Whether or not your favorite fruit or veg is in the Dirty Dozen, you should still always wash your produce before cutting, peeling and eating it. Because pesticides were developed to kill pests, they’re toxic to humans, animals, other organisms and the environment, Penn State notes. And increased exposure and ingesting high doses has been linked with birth defects, the growth of benign and malignant tumors, blood disorders and nerve disorders, and reproductive effects.
Plus, produce is often covered with bacteria that can cause food poisoning. A recent preliminary FDA report analyzing 139 samples of cilantro, basil and parsley found E. coli, salmonella and listeria on the herbs, for example. The CDC has also found that produce causes nearly half of all foodborne illnesses, while meat and poultry are guilty in just 22% of cases.
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