What Should You Always Buy Organic?

pesticides
Pesticides

Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the best and worst conventionally grown fruits and vegetables when evaluated for pesticide residue. These lists, called the Dirty Dozen Plus and the Clean Fifteen, help guide consumers when asking “What should I always buy organic?”

The Dirty Dozen Plus

These fruits and vegetables test the highest for undesirable pesticide and chemical residues.  This list is a handy shopping guide when considering which fruits and vegetables to purchase when comparing organic and conventionally grown options.   Their rankings are based on the results of widespread testing conducted by the US Department of Agriculture.  In some cases, the results show that evidence of pesticide residue on these agricultural products persists even after the item is washed and sometimes peeled.  The PLUS category highlights two agricultural products that contain highly toxic pesticide residue but do not otherwise meet the organization’s traditional criteria.
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Peaches
  4. Potatoes
  5. Snap Peas (imported)
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet Bell Peppers
  8. Nectarines
  9. Grapes
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Cherry Tomatoes
  12. Strawberries

PLUS:  Hot Peppers & Kale and Collard Greens

Buyer beware!  While apples frequently appear at the top of the list, the EWG’s 2015 analysis found that the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.  The potato’s contamination is surprising given that they are grown underground and generally thought of to be safer from insects than fruits that grow on vines or trees.   In the PLUS category, the pesticides found on leafy greens and hot peppers are especially toxic to the nervous system. The EWG uses six different criteria in their metric each year to determine which products are the “dirtiest.”  Unfortunately, the harmful chemicals are not found only on the fresh produce but have also been found in large quantities of baby food.

The Clean Fifteen

In stark contrast, The Clean Fifteen list represents the conventionally grown produce that is most likely to be free of harmful pesticide residue and harmful fertilizers.

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

These conventionally grown fruits and vegetables rank at the bottom of EWG’s six point metric.  Most notable from this list, only 1 percent of avocados showed evidence of any pesticides and none of these fruits or vegetables tested positive for more than four types of pesticides.

The Bottom Line

We believe that purchasing organic whenever possible is the surest route to ensure that your family is eating the healthiest food possible.  However, at times when your budget might be tight or organic options are not available, the Dirty Dozen Plus and the Clean Fifteen can help you decide how to prioritize your organic purchases.

Read more about the EWG’s findings at Executive Summary:  EWG’s 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

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