The Dirty Dozen: Produce Exposed to the Most Pesticides

organic produce organic fruit organic vegetablesEvery time you eat a meal, you consume residues of insect killers and fungicides -- unless you eat only organic foods. Many pesticides disrupt male hormones, new research shows. Yet not everyone's budget allows for buying only organic foods, which typically (not always) are pricier, but also must not be produced with the use of synthetic chemicals, radiation or fertilizers made of sewage sludge.

So to help prioritize your food dollars, here's the current list of the "Dirty Dozen" worst conventionally grown fruits and vegetables to buy, as determined by Environmental Working Group after examining U.S. Department of Agriculture's produce tests. If you eat them, you'll be exposed to an average of 10 pesticides a day.You can drastically lower your pesticide consumption by avoiding these 12 most-contaminated produce items and buying them organic, according to EWG. Scrubbing them clean isn't enough.

Buy these organic:
  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Bell peppers
  8. Spinach
  9. Cherries
  10. Kale/collard greens
  11. Potatoes
  12. Grapes (imported)
If your budget allows for more, here are the next few to try to buy organic:
  1. Lettuce
  2. Blueberries (imported)
  3. Carrots
  4. Green beans (domestic)
  5. Pears
  6. Plums (imported)
  7. Summer squash
  8. Cucumbers (imported)

organic produce pesticidesDownload a wallet guide here. For a lengthier wallet guide by the Organic Center, which advises against additional produce, including cranberries, nectarines and imported broccoli, download here.

Meat and milk also contain pesticides, according to EWG citing government tests, but only fruits and veggies are considered for its "worst" list. USDA indicates organic meat can be safer: "Organic meat products have been shown to reduce risk for potential exposure to prion-related diseases including mad cow disease and to arsenic residues in chicken meat," according to USDA's web site.

So what does it all mean?

  • Eating conventionally grown blueberries or any produce on the above list still beats chowing down on sugar-laden processed foods, according to EWG. The idea behind the Dirty Dozen list is to help you eat more produce while slashing the pesticides consumed.
  • A lot of produce in supermarket aisles carry residues of pesticides, even after washing. Government tests found 70% of sampled produce tainted with one or more pesticides, EWG says.
  • Raspberries and pears no longer rank among the top 12 "worst," but don't rejoice yet. "It doesn't necessarily mean that the most recent tests found less pesticides on them than in previous years, but that the current results found other foods had higher levels of pesticide contamination," says Alex Formuzis, an EWG spokesperson.
  • Now that new research shows that certain pesticides used on strawberries, grapes, lettuce and other produce disrupt male hormones, you may want to take steps to minimize how much residue pesticide you inadvertently consume.

Bottom line: "If customers are concerned about pesticides in general, then they should buy organic," Formuzis says, "for as many foods as possible."

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