Want to buy everything organic? Navigating the produce aisle can be an expensive task. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group simplifies the decision-making process with their annual "Dirty Dozen" list, ranking fruits and veggies with the most and least amounts of pesticides. And this year's most pesticide-laden offender is strawberries.
The EWC analyzed tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, finding that a whopping 70 percent of 48 types of conventional produce contained pesticides. Thousands of individual produce samples were analyzed, and a total of 178 different pesticide products were discovered. Worse, much of the residues remained on the fruits and veggies even after washing and sometimes peeling.
Strawberries topped the list with at least 20 different pesticides, while spinach trailed behind with an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes round out the "Dirty Dozen." These are the ones to splurge on organic varieties of when they're in season.
"If you don't want to feed your family food contaminated with pesticides, the EWG Shopper's Guide helps you make smart choices, whether you're buying conventional or organic produce," Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst, explained in a press release. "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. If you can't buy organic, the Shopper's Guide will steer you to conventionally grown produce that is the lowest in pesticides."
The group also released a "Clean Fifteen" list of products least likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues. Sweet corn and avocados were found to be the cleanest on the list, with only 1 percent of samples showing detectable pesticides, while pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit all made the list.
While pesticide consumption clearly isn't ideal for anyone and can pose serious health risks like birth defects, nerve damage and cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it's most important to limit exposure in young children whose immune systems and organs aren't fully developed.
"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," said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. He suggests using the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" guides to determine what produce to purchase organic.
Related: The 10 Worst Chemicals in Our Food
What Do YOU Think?
Are there items on either the "Dirty Dozen" or "Clean Fifteen" list that surprise you? What fruits and veggies do you always buy organic? Are you afraid of pesticides on produce, or is the risk overhyped?