(ENVIRONMENT/GREEN) The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released their 2014 list of fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticide residue. Apple lovers may not be too happy about their findings, but guacamole fans can breathe a sigh of relief.

Two-thirds of produce samples in recent government tests had pesticide residue. The EWG puts out an annual shoppers guide to help people enjoy a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with less exposure to pesticides./Photo credit: paleoaholic.com
Two-thirds of produce samples in recent government tests had pesticide residue. The EWG puts out an annual shoppers guide to help people enjoy a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with less exposure to pesticides. Photo credit: paleoaholic.com

For more than a decade, the Washington watchdog group has published an annual guide to help consumers make more informed choices in the produce section of their grocery store.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set limits on allowable amounts of pesticide residue it considers safe and requires all produce sold in stores to meet those standards. However, that doesn’t mean the fruits and vegetables you buy at the market are pesticide-free. About 65 percent of the thousands of produce samples analyzed by the USDA test positive for small amounts of chemicals.

EWG believes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn’t doing enough to educate Americans on the dangers of pesticide exposure and on how to reduce pesticides in their diets. The organization believes their Shopper’s Guide lists, called the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen,” help fill that void:

“EWG’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce is designed to step in where the government falters. It translates an extensive database of pesticide tests conducted by the USDA and the federal Food & Drug Administration on food crops into a user-friendly tool that empowers Americans to reduce their exposure to pesticides.”

It turns out an apple a day may not keep the doctor away, unless you buy organic. EWG found 99 percent of apple samples test positive for at least one pesticide residue./Photo credit: mashable.com
It turns out an apple a day may not keep the doctor away, unless you buy organic. EWG found 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. Photo credit: mashable.com

“This years guide draws from 32,000 samples tested by USDA and FDA scientists. They detected pesticides on two of every three samples,” EWG adds.

Apples, grapes, strawberries, celery, spinach and sweet bell peppers all rate high on the “Dirty Dozen” list. In fact, 99 percent of the sample apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue while a single grape sample contained 15.

EWR’s “Dirty Dozen” list:

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap Peas
  12. Potatoes
Avocados hold the top spot for the cleanest, with only one percent having detectable pesticides./ Photo credit: diaryofanutritionist.com
Avocados hold top spot for the cleanest, only one percent had detectable pesticides. Photo credit: diaryofanutritionist.com

Leafy greens—like kale and collard greens—and hot peppers were also tainted with unusually hazardous pesticides that prove toxic to the human nervous system.

On the more positive side: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangos, onions, and sweet potatoes are some of the foods least likely to hold pesticide residue. Avocados led the “Clean Fifteen” pack with only one percent testing positive. Most of the fruits and vegetables on the list have thicker skins, so they’re less likely to absorb chemicals.

So what does all of this mean?

The EWG doesn’t want you to stop eating your kale and strawberries. On the contrary, they—along with most health experts—believe the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.

Instead the group recommends you avoid the “Dirty Dozen” foods or buy organic produce whenever possible. And if that gets too expensive, just keep it “clean,” and stick to the fruits and veggies with the lowest pesticide levels.

Go to EWG’s website for the complete Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. And for a delicious recipe filled with “clean” food check out Wednesday’s The Well-Intentioned Eater.

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