2015’s Dirty Dozen: Your guide to the produce with the most (and least) pesticides

Have the list handy when you head to the farmers market.

Dirty Dozen list

It’s that time of year, again. (Sorry, we’re not talking about the end of winter.)

The Environmental Working Group just released its 2015 update to the annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which includes the latest version of its popular “Dirty Dozen” list, the 12 fruits and vegetables that were found to contain the most pesticide residues. (Not to be confused with the beauty world’s “Dirty Dozen” list of ingredients to avoid in skin-care products.)

What were some of the big findings?

First off, EWG found that consumers are often ingesting pesticides with their conventionally-grown produce. “Nearly two-thirds of produce samples tested by the government and analyzed for the 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce contained pesticide residues—a surprising finding in the face of soaring consumer demand for food without agricultural chemicals,” says the Environmental Working Group’s senior analyst, Sonya Lunder.

The data analyzed comes from tests done by the USDA, in which produce is washed and peeled to mimic what a consumer would do before it’s tested. After EWG compiles the data, analysts classify the 48 popular fruits and veggies into the 12 that contained the most pesticide residues—The Dirty Dozen—and the 15 that contained the least—The Clean 15. (The Clean 15 were found to have the least pesticide residue, not necessarily no residue.)

These simple lists are meant to make it easy for you to pull a card out of your wallet or open the app on your iPhone and decide whether spending an extra dollar on an organic avocado is worth it to you. (In this case, for instance, you’d find avocados are on the Clean 15, so maybe you want to save your cash.)

Lunder says this year’s list is pretty consistent with previous years, but we put together a few need-to-know facts about some of the worst offenders, here.

1. Apples are kind of the worst. If there’s one fruit you should buy organic, it’s these crispy favorites. “Apples topped the list for the fifth time in a row,” Lunder says. Last year, one report showed that 80 percent of apples sold in the United States were contaminated with a chemical called diphenylamine (DPA), and it doesn’t look like it’s improved much. It’s probably because DPA is deliberately applied “to prevent the skins of apples from developing brown or black patches,” explains Lunder in this article.

2. Peaches and nectarines got dirtier. These summertime fruits have been on the list for a few years in a row, but “they moved up to the second and third spots on the Dirty Dozen list this year,” Lunder says.

3. Leafy greens can be…toxic? Spinach has made the Dirty Dozen list a few years in a row and did again this year. Kale and collard greens did not meet the criteria but were added to what EWG calls the “Dirty Dozen Plus” list because they were found to contain trace levels of insecticides that are “highly toxic to the human nervous system.” So if you blend your own green smoothie every day, pack spinach salads for lunch, and sautée kale every night, you might want to look for the USDA organic seal. —Molly Gallagher

For more information, visit www.ewg.org, and check out the lists, below.

Dirty Dozen

 (Photos: Foodiesfeed.org, Ewg.org)

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