Even though 55 percent of Americans believe organic produce is healthier than conventional produce, the reality is that not all fruits and vegetables need to be organic. Knowing when to splurge on organic produce and when to save your money can be tricky. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a report every year to help consumers better navigate their grocery aisles by learning which fruits and vegetables contain the highest amount of pesticide residue.
Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the EWG's most recent analysis has shed some light on pesticide-ridden produce by testing 48 types of conventional produce.
The number-one item on the 2017 Dirty Dozen list continues to be strawberries; the most contaminated sample of strawberries was found to have 20 different types of pesticides.
Meanwhile spinach jumped to second place in the annual ranking, with the average sample containing "twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop." What's more, a controversial neurotoxic pesticide banned in Europe for food crops was found in 75 percent of spinach samples.
The Full "Dirty Dozen"
This year's top 12 list includes strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes. New to the top 12 are pears and potatoes, which replaced cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from the 2016 list.
Overall, the EWG found 70 percent of the produce tested to be contaminated with at least one type of pesticide. In their analysis of thousands of produce samples, 178 unique pesticides and "pesticide breakdown products" were found by researchers. The troubling part? Some of the pesticide residues remained on the produce after they were washed and peeled.
"Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they're grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic," says Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst.
While it is important across the board to be wary of pesticide consumption, it is especially vital to monitor young children's intake. "Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies, and young children, so when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children's exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables," says Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
As for the "cleanest" produce, the top 15 list contains sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower, and grapefruit.
Read more: All 48 Fruits and Vegetables with Pesticide Residue Data from EWG