Each spring the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases two lists aimed at helping shoppers navigate the produce aisle: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. With so many choices – and so many price points – to select from, EWG’s lists simplify the process of choosing between organic and conventional produce to optimize your health and maximize your food budget.
EWG’s findings are based on annual pesticide residue tests performed by the USDA. The USDA tests multiple samples of each produce item, washed and peeled to mimic how they would be consumed at home. EWG compiles that data into a ranking based on their list of defined criteria in order to more fully reflect the possible risk each poses to consumers.
Pesticides and Your Health
Pesticides can impact human health in a number of ways. Evidence suggests that exposure to organophosphates can have negative effects on brain and nervous system development in children. Long-term direct exposure to pesticides is associated with diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s, as well as chronic symptoms such as nausea, headaches, rashes, or even depression and anxiety.
Studies that look at the health effects of food-based pesticide residues are rare because they are difficult to perform and require long-term data collection. However, a significant 2017 study found a correlation between consuming produce with high pesticide residues (many of the same items appear on the Dirty Dozen list) and reduced fertility in women. A previous study found a similar correlation with male fertility.
The Dirty Dozen
Topping the list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, the 2018 Dirty Dozen are:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Hot peppers
Hot peppers are included as the 13th “dirtiest” because they contain residues of three toxic insecticides that are banned from most crops, but are still allowed on hot peppers. All of the fruits and vegetables on this list tested positive for at least one pesticide residue (and, in several cases, 4-20 different residues) in higher concentration than other types of produce. When possible, be sure to purchase organically grown produce from the Dirty Dozen list to avoid these potentially harmful residues.
EWG also publishes a full ranking of all produce tested by the USDA. Check the full list to see how your favorite vegetables rank.
The Clean Fifteen
The Clean Fifteen are fruits and vegetables that tend to have the smallest traces of pesticide residues. The 2018 Clean Fifteen are:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet frozen peas
- Honeydew melon
Clean Fifteen produce routinely tests very low for pesticide residues and EWG considers them safe to consume as “conventional” rather than organic. However, organic produce is always better for your health and the environment, so continue to buy organic when you can!