What You Need to Know About the Dirty Dozen List

by Chrystal Johnson on June 5, 2014

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dirty-dozen-apple-strawberryEWG released their latest Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists in April, but I just saw them this week. If you aren’t familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, each year they test produce (this year they tested 48 different crops) for pesticide residues. Then they rank them by the number of pesticide residues they found and write a thorough report about them.

I love reading the report every year and seeing how pesticide use changes. The list is usually pretty similar each year (read my notes from the 2011 report here), but there are usually a few changes.

This year, they finally addressed the issue of GMO crops on their report. They talked about how a small percentage of sweet corn, zucchini and yellow squash are now genetically modified, and that nearly all Hawaiian Papaya is genetically modified. While I appreciate that they talked about this in their report, I’m disappointed to still see sweet corn and Papaya on the Clean Fifteen List.

They did find that the sweet corn sold in stores is seldom from GMO seed.  However, I feel strongly about  not supporting crops that are going the way of genetic engineering. In this case, I prefer to always buy organic when there is a GE seed option for conventional crops (cross contamination is a risk, especially with GMO corn).

I hope they’ll consider removing all produce that has the potential to be GMO from the Clean Fifteen List next year.

Dirty Dozen Plus

These are the produce items you should always buy organic. If you can’t get the organic version, it’s best to skip buying it unless you’re getting it from a local farmer you know does not use pesticides.

Apples, at number 1, have the highest pesticide residue (all apples tested were positive for pesticide residues), and as you go down the list the residues decrease slightly.

I was disappointed to see hot peppers added to the list this year since I have found it impossible to get organic hot peppers locally, and I love culturing jalapenos (either in salsa verde or with spicy carrots). Everything else on the list we make a priority to buy organic.

You can read about the number of pesticide residues on each crop in the EWG summary.

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet Bell Peppers
  8. Nectarines – Imported
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap Peas – Imported
  12. Potatoes
  13. Hot Peppers
  14. Kale / Collard Greens

Clean Fifteen

According to EWG, relatively few pesticides were detected on the Clean Fifteen foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides. I was happy to see that avocados were found to be the cleanest crop, with only 1% of avocados testing positive for pesticide residues. No need to spend extra money on one of my favorite foods!

Some other notes about the Clean Fifteen to take note of are that none of these produce items tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides, and only 5.5% of them tested positive for more than 2 pesticides. That’s in comparison to grapes, which tested positive for 15 different pesticide residues!

If you’re on a budget, you can feel more comfortable buying non-organic versions of these 15 foods.

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Papayas
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet Potatoes

Do you use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to prioritize which produce items you should buy organic?

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