One of the raddest things about eating organic fruits and vegetables is that there is no necessary cleaning involved.  Aside from a bit of soil and the occasional creepy-crawly, you can pick an apple or piece of celery right out of your shopping bag as you exit the market and get to chompin’.  However, for those of us with a very strict budget for food, or living in a colder climate where local organics are harder to procure, exceptions need to be made.  We have to make due with what we can, and so the questions surrounding pesticides on conventional produce arise. Is there actually a lot of pesticide residue on these grapes?  How much?  Are some foods safer than others, or is it just a big, mega-agricultural crap shoot?

Well, not so much.  The Environmental Work Group has compiled data from extensive tests performed by the FDA and the Department of Agriculture on which fruits and veggies retain the highest amount of pesticide and herbicide residue after being harvested, and published the results in their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides .  To quote: “The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides ranks pesticide contamination for 47 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 87,000 tests for pesticides on these foods, conducted from 2000 to 2007 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Nearly all the studies used to create the list test produce after it has been rinsed or peeled. Contamination was measured in six different ways and crops were ranked based on a composite score from all categories.”

The items with the highest contamination, referred to as The Dirty Dozen, are as follows:

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Pears
  • Lettuce
  • Strawberries
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach

The rating scale ranges from 1 to 100, the highest number being the most contaminated.  We’re sorry, but the top three fruits are your favorites: peaches ranked in at an unfortunate 100 (as their porous skin absorbs quite a bit more), apples at a close 89, and strawberries at 82.  The top three veggies look a tad better, with bell peppers at 86, celery at 85 and spinach at 60 (due to the delicacy of their leaves).  You can find the full list of 47 here.

Yeah, pretty gross, but there are other options aside from shopping organic exclusively.  The Organic Consumer’s Association provides a handy list of fruits and veggies that offer the same nutrients as The Dozen that would work as suitable replacements, as well as some very useful tips, like choosing conventional apple juice over apples themselves as it has a comparatively low residue level, and easily growing nutritious sprouts in your home.

The bottom line for The Dirty Dozen: buy these items organic, or forget about it. Why mess around with even more cancer-causing agents than already surround us on a daily basis?

-Jeremy Pearson