Need-to-know news about how to pick your produce

The annual "Dirty Dozen" list of pesticide-contaminated produce is here (yay), along with new research on the chemicals' effects (boo).

The Environmental Working Group just released the 2014 edition of its annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which includes the update of its popular “Dirty Dozen” list—and there’s more reason than ever to pay attention this year.

Why? Recent reports have pointed to the “extreme levels” of pesticides in some non-organic foods.

One report showed 80 percent of apples sold in the United States are contaminated with diphenylamine (DPA), a chemical that was just banned in Europe after regulators said they could not confirm its safety.

While a study set to be published in June’s issue of Food Chemistry found that genetically-modified soybeans (engineered to survive herbicides) contained “extreme levels” of Roundup, an herbicide that’s been shown to kill human cells in a lab and is linked to dozens of possible health risks.

The good news: You can keep the EWG list of the most contaminated foods close, so you’ll always know which ones your organic dollars should definitely be spent on (and those that have more wiggle room). Here are a few other quick need-to-know facts that will help you navigate the produce aisle like a healthy pro:

1. Mind your apples. Fall’s fave crop took the number one “dirty” spot for the fourth year in a row, and 99 percent of the apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. Buy them organic, or at least local, since some of the chemicals applied to apples happen after they’re picked to preserve shelf life.

2. Go organic with greens. While only spinach made it onto the top 12 list of the most pesticide-laden crops, leafy greens like kale and collards were “frequently contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health.” That could add up if you’re eating a ton of greens.

3. If you can’t buy organic, opt for thick skin. It’s intuitive, and it’s true. Produce with more protection tends to have less pesticide residue. Only one percent of avocados showed any detectable pesticide residue. Ditto corn, pineapple, and papayas. —Lisa Elaine Held

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