The ‘Clean 15’ and the ‘Dirty Dozen’ – Pesticides and Your Food

We all know we should do it, but how many of us actually bother? Of course, I’m talking about buying organic! You stand there in the fruit and vegetable aisle and look at the enormous, attractive regular produce, then stare at the smaller, less perfect items in the organic section. Why spend the extra money?

The answer is you don’t have to; not really. Sometimes the ordinary fruits and veggies are just as healthy – and sometimes they’re not.

The Danger of Pesticide Exposure

Pesticides are used to eliminate certain insects and plants or prevent mold and mildew.

A disturbing number of them have been found to be harmful to people at high doses.

But, they are still applied to the produce that we eat – worse, pesticide residue is found on almost ninety-percent of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Some studies have discovered a possible correlation between long-term toxic pesticide exposure and horribly debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s. Our children are even more at risk from exposure because their bodies are smaller, making pesticide doses that are too low to affect adults a worrying concern for children’s health.

Clearly, the widespread use of potentially toxic herbicides (like glyphosate) and pesticides is an issue that must be dealt with up to the highest levels of the government we rely on to protect us. Are the authorities doing enough?

What is the EPA Doing?

Fortunately, pesticide rules were overhauled in 1996; since that time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completely withdrawn permission for a host of the most toxic insecticides used on our on food crops. Sadly, they have yet to place new restrictions on pesticides still in use that are also considered toxic to consume.

Currently, the EPA is considering whether or not to ban chlorpyrifos; used since 1965; it’s an organophosphate insecticide linked to brain problems in children whose mothers were exposed to it during pregnancy.

Chlorpyrifos is still legal to use around your home in ant or roach baits and fire ant mound treatments. And, this is just one example; there are a plethora of other toxic chemicals still being routinely applied to the food we eat.

Apparently, the EPA moves much too slowly to completely safeguard our health. We, therefore, need to educate ourselves to prevent ourselves and our families being harmed by these (currently) readily available toxic substances.

How to Tell Which Produce Has the Most Pesticide Residue

This is when you need to rely on the dirty dozen list. A yearly list of the most pesticide- contaminated food offered for sale.

The Dirty Dozen list for 2017 lists which of twelve fruits and vegetables contain the most significant amount of pesticide residues – the dirtiest in terms of toxins. The Dirty Dozen is an invaluable guide for folks worried about pesticide exposure from the food they eat. Use it to learn which fruits and vegetables are safe to eat and which produce you should avoid.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducts tests on a broad variety of both fruit and vegetable crops every year to check the levels of over one-hundred different pesticides. They place particular emphasis on those foods most often consumed by children and infants.

The dirty dozen list is assembled by the Environmental Working Group and is based on information learned from laboratory tests performed by the USDA Pesticide Testing Program.

How Produce Gets on the List

EWG combines different degrees of contamination to determine a composite score for every type of produce tested:

  • The percent of all samples tested that had measurable pesticide contamination
  • Average number of pesticides present on the sample food
  • Total amount of pesticides discovered on the tested produce
  • Percent of sample produce that had two or more pesticides
  • Maximum amount of pesticides discovered on a single sample
  • Average measurable amount of all pesticides measured

The List for 2017

This is what you’ve been waiting for – the dirty dozen list for 2017. These are the foods that the EWG has determined are the most contaminated with toxic pesticides. In other words; the foods you need to consider replacing with the organically grown version.

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet Bell Peppers
  12. Potatoes

As a bonus, they’ve included hot peppers as a 13th item to the usual 12 item list.

But, I Can’t Afford to Buy Organic!

Understandably, buying organic can place an undue financial stress on many families; but what other options are there?

While it’s true that the produce on the EWG dirty dozen list is the most contaminated by surface residues – that’s all it is – surface residue.

A perfectly viable option is to thoroughly wash the fruits and vegetables that you buy before eating them. Many of the fruits and vegetables on the list are those we typically eat unpeeled, or which come without a protective skin. So, one effective method is to wash conventionally grown produce in a container with a mixture of four parts water to one part plain white vinegar. The acetic acid in the vinegar will scour the residue from the food surfaces. Make sure you rinse everything thoroughly afterward.

Another method of removing pesticide residue from individual items is to peel them before use; this is a practical way to minimize your exposure to pesticides on produce such as apples, pears, potatoes, etc.

It’s not all Bad News – The Clean 15

The EWG doesn’t just warn you about the most contaminated foods you’ll find in the fresh produce aisle – they’re happy also to let you know which fruits and veggies are the cleanest items in the store; the ones you don’t have to buy organic because they aren’t as heavily exposed to pesticides.

Here it is; the clean 15!

  1. Corn
  2. Avocadoes
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Frozen sweet peas
  7. Papaya
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mango
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honey Dew Melon
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Grapefruit

If I Can Wash the Residue Away – Why Bother Buying Organic?

Regarding pesticide contamination; there’s more to think about than just the residues you risk ingesting as a consumer.

Even peeling foods like apples, avocados and peaches might spare you from potentially toxic exposure to pesticides, the massive amounts of pesticides and chemical herbicides used on the farms producing this food can still hurt you.

These chemicals can contaminate our groundwater, streams, rivers, and otherwise damage our local ecosystems. Help promote our planet’s health along with your own by buying organically grown food whenever you can. Send a message that we – the buying public and also residents on this tiny planet value ourselves and our children more than blemish-free and inexpensive food.

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George Citroner

GW Citroner is a Hudson Valley, NY based writer whose work has appeared in over 20 publications and on an incredible range of Health & Wellness topics.

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