Organics: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

LIKE MOST SHOPPERS, I PREFER TO BUY ORGANIC PRODUCE when I can. But, also like most shoppers, I have to make choices based on budgetary concerns.

The answer: the Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 list which is based on data from the Environmental Working Group on pesticide residue. These lists make it easy to select foods with the least contamination when buying organic isn’t an option.

According to The Daily Green:

“If consumers get their USDA-recommended 5 daily servings of fruits and veggies from the 15 most contaminated, they could consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat the 15 least contaminated conventionally grown produce ingest less than 2 pesticides daily.”

Using the lists below (updated for 2010) will limit your family’s exposure to pesticides* while also keeping an eye on your budget.

The Dirty Dozen:
These foods retain the most residue from pesticides, additives and hormones even after washing.

  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Bell Pepper
  8. Spinach
  9. Kale
  10. Cherries
  11. Potatoes
  12. Grapes

The Clean 15:
These fruits and vegetables were the least likely to have pesticides detected on the parts you eat whether or not they’re certified organic (after washing).

  1. Onions
  2. Avacado
  3. Corn
  4. Pineapple
  5. Mango
  6. Asparagus
  7. Sweet Peas
  8. Kiwi
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Papaya
  12. Watermelon
  13. Broccoli
  14. Tomato
  15. Sweet Potato

PRODUCE FROM THE USA LABELED ORGANIC has not been treated with conventional pesticides in any phase of growth and processing. Use of synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering, ionizing radiation, and processing aids (substances used during processing but not added directly to food) are also prohibited. Certain natural pesticides are allowed, but use is restricted and must be documented.  (Source: USDA web site.)

Conventional produce has been treated with pesticides at multiple points during growth, processing, and transport.

The bottom line: It’s better to buy organic when buying something on the Dirty Dozen list. Produce on the clean 15 list can be bought conventional with little risk.

*Eating organic isn’t just about eating pesticide-free food. As Michael Pollan explains in The Omniore’s Dilemma, not all organic farming is created equal. But that is a whole lotta discussion for another time (or, better yet, just read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)