Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen: Guide to Pesticides in Produce

For many shoppers, trips to the grocery store come with the following dilemma: buy organic or conventional produce? But there are ways to eat healthier, even if you can't fill your grocery basket with organic fruits and veggies.

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Produce on the Dirty Dozen list tested positive for several different pesticide residues and showed higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce.
USDA’s 2014 tests on strawberries found that growers used 60 different pesticides in various combinations on the fruit and that some 40 percent of the samples had residues of 10 or more pesticides. Part of the reason for the high number of pesticides is that strawberries are grown close to the ground and need to be protected from a range of predators — plus they have no outer peel to protect against pesticides.
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The USDA tests samples over time and even though the Shopper's Guide's data is from 2014, the numbers remain fairly consistent year to year. More than 98 percent of apple, strawberry, peach and nectarine samples had at least one type of pesticide residue.
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A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides. Nearly three-fourths of the 6,953 produce samples tested by the USDA in 2014 contained pesticide residues. According to the EWG, the findings are "surprising" since consumers are increasingly looking for produce options without synthetic chemicals.
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Cucumbers also made the Dirty Dozen list. The produce tested by the USDA has been washed and the food that is normally peeled before eating is peeled before being tested.
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When people see produce in the grocery store, most don’t realize how much of it has pesticide residue on it, said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the EWG. “It looks beautiful, it smells good, it looks really clean and we don't think about the stuff that goes onto it."
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Produce on the Clean Fifteen list tested positive for the fewest pesticides. These items tend to have thicker outer layers. Even if you buy conventional produce in this list, you won't be consuming many pesticides.
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Grapefruit, pineapple and sweet corn are among the "cleaner" conventional produce; 89 percent of pineapples had no pesticide residue.
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None of the fruit on the "clean" list tested positive for more than four pesticides.
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Turns out many pests don't like the taste of cabbage, which means fewer insecticides need to be used, according to Lunder. Unlike lettuce, cabbage also has a thicker outer layer making it harder for pests to burrow through.
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The specific pesticides that the USDA finds in produce varies from year to year, depending on weather conditions, different pests and other factors, but the overall figures are generally consistent.
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Of all the produce tested, avocados were the "cleanest" with only 1 percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. Seventy-three percent of kiwis had no pesticides on them.
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Eighty-one percent of papayas, 78 percent of mangoes, and 62 percent of cantaloupes were found to have no pesticide residue.
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