The 2018 "Dirty Dozen": the pesticide-covered produce you should watch out for

Fresh strawberry in a clay plate on wooden table
Strawberries have topped the EWP’s Dirty Dozen list of pesticide-ridden produce for the third year in a row. (Image: Sanny11/iStock/GettyImages)

The Environmental Working Group has released its 2018 Dirty Dozen list of fruits and veggies, and for the third year in a row strawberries were named the most pesticide-ridden produce.

Every year since 2004, the EWG has released its annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranking fruits and veggies that are highest in pesticide residue (the Dirty Dozen) and lowest (the Clean Fifteen). Not only does EWG’s list make the organic produce decision-making process a whole lot easier, it also raises awareness as to just how many chemicals are contaminating the foods we eat. Research has shown that pesticide consumption can pose serious health risks, including birth defects, Parkinson’s disease and cancer. Limiting exposure in young children, whose immune systems and organs aren’t fully developed, is even more important.

So what about this year’s list? It isn’t very much different than prior years, with strawberries nabbing the “dirtiest” spot on the list. Yep, a third of all strawberry samples contained 10 or more pesticides, while one in particular contained a whopping 22 pesticide residues. Scary, right? So it’s best to splurge and go organic when it comes the delicious red berries.

The second most contaminated piece of produce is spinach, with 97 percent of conventional samples containing pesticide residues. The leafy green also had relatively high concentrations of permethrin — a neurotoxic insecticide (also used to treat lice). Another not-so-fun fact? On average, samples of spinach contained 1.8 times the pesticides by weight than any other crop.

Nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers rounded out the top 12 list of biggest offenders, all of which were on the list last year. The EWP also highlighted an additional item — hot peppers — because they contain traces of “high toxic pesticides.” The authors warn that if you “cannot find or afford organic hot peppers,” you should most definitely cook them “because pesticide levels typically diminish when food is cooked.”

As for the Clean Fifteen — the 15 fruits and veggies you don’t have to buy organic — avocado toast lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. Less than 1 percent of the fleshy, creamy fruits tested positive for pesticides, and just one pesticide was found on any of the 360 sampled. Sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydew melons, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli all made the clean list as well.

“There is a reason pediatricians encourage parents to consult EWG’s guide and take other steps to reduce their child’s exposure to pesticides,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said in a press release. “Pesticides can cause harm to infants, babies and young children at even low levels like those found on some foods.”

What Do YOU Think?

Are you surprised by what fruits and vegetables landed on the EWP Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists? Will these lists change the way you shop for organic produce? What items do you always buy organic? Tell us in the comments!

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