Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a list of what they consider to be the foods contaminated most with pesticides called “The Dirty Dozen.” This year, the EWG is using government data from 2014 (the most recent year available). The U.S. Department of Agriculture tested almost 7,000 produce samples and found that a shocking nearly 75 percent of them contained pesticide residues. In many cases, the pesticides could not be removed even when washed—or in some cases—peeled.
Before we get into the results, it’s important to mention that there are some conflicting schools of thought on how harmful pesticides are. A 2012 report from NPR, for example, concludes that the presence of pesticides doesn’t necessarily equate to health risks. Plus, it’s good to remember that the EWG is an advocacy group that focuses on taking down chemicals, but the facts are the facts. So, regardless of whether it changes how you grocery shop, here are the data to know.
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For its 2016 “Dirty Dozen” list, the EWG singled out the produce with the highest amount of pesticide loads—and it scarily reads like a list of everything we love in our fridge. The list includes apples, peaches, nectarines, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and tops off with strawberries.
According to EWG research, more than 98 percent of strawberry, peach, nectarine, and apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. A single sample of strawberries turned up at least 17 different types of pesticides, followed by grape and sweet bell pepper samples, which contained 15 pesticides.
The EWG also released a “Dirty Dozen PLUS” category, which highlights two types of food that were detected to contain highly hazardous pesticides. Named on the list as particularly concerning are kale, collard greens and hot peppers. Found on those products were trace amounts of organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, which are so toxic that there are legal restrictions against using them. The EWG recommends that consumers buy organic varieties of leafy greens and hot peppers—and if that’s not possible, to cook the products before eating.
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The good news is—it’s not all toxic out there. The EWG also released a list dubbed the “The Clean Fifteen,” which lists the produce least likely to hold pesticides. No fruit samples on the list were found to have more than four types of pesticides and only 5.5 percent of vegetables contained two or more pesticides.
So what’s safe to indulge in? Sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, honeydew melon, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and avocado. Avocados were the cleanest, with only 1 percent of avocado samples showing any pesticides. Great news for our breakfast, smoothies and salads.
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