The Environmental Working Group, a non-partisan health and environmental watchdog group, released its annual Dirty Dozen List for 2019, a roundup of non-organic produce that tests the highest for pesticides that include chemicals to keep away rodents, insects and mold. So, which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residue?
This year, the study found that nearly 70 percent of non-organic produce sampled tested positive for pesticides, even more shocking was the addition of newcomer to the list: popular health food kale. The study showed that more than 92 percent of kale samples had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues. Here is the EWG’s breakdown of the 12 “dirtiest” produce for 2019.
Non-organic potatoes tested in the study contained more pesticide residues by weight than any other crop. It was found that Chlorpropha, was the highest detected pesticide among all used on the crop, which has been linked to disruption in the body's central nervous system.
Even the most careful washing cannot remove all pesticides, so be sure to shop organic on this one.
Celery grown conventionally was found to have up to 13 pesticides on a sample, and over 95 percent of all samples tested positive for pesticides. Because of the high percentages, celery slipped into the top 10 of the dirty dozen this year.
With so many varieties of tomatoes, it's not shocking to hear that one sample of conventionally grown tomatoes contained 15 different pesticides and that on average four pesticides were used a normal basis. The thin skin of a tomato means the pesticides are able to penetrate the fruit and that simply washing isn't enough to keep them away from your family.
The EWG found that more than half of non-organic pears in the testing sample had evidence of five of more pesticides, including insecticides and fungicides, in higher concentrations than other produce. This number has more than doubled since the 2010 and pears are categorized this year as having "extreme residues" for pesticides.
Coming in at number seven, thirty percent of cherries sampled in the study were found to contain Iprodione which is a pesticide that could cause cancer, and has been outlawed in Europe. On average, cherries grown non-organic were found to contain five pesticides.
In a scary statistic, more than 99 percent of studied in the sample were found to have pesticide residues. One of the residues was chlorpyrifos, the same pesticides found in bell peppers that can impact brain development in children. On average, four pesticide residues were continuously found on non-organic peaches.
Conventional grapes tested in the study were found to have an average of five pesticides, and more than 96 percent of the sample included some sort of pesticide residues.
Play it safe and just buy organic grapes!
Apples contain an average of 4.4 pesticide residues, including some at high concentrations. Additionally, 80 percent of the sample also contained diphenylamine which is an antioxidant chemical treatment used to prevent the skin of apples in cold storage from developing brown or black patches known as “storage scald.” Though the USDA claims diphenylamine is safe for use, the European Union has banned apples with levels of the chemical that are higher than 0.1 part per million.
Coming in at number three, conventionally grown nectarines were found to contain residues of at least 15 pesticides, one of which is chlorpyrifos. Of the total sample, almost 94 percent had at least two or more pesticides.
Kale is a nutrient-rich healthy vegetable, but unfortunately it is also now one of the dirtiest. Nearly 60 percent of kale samples sold in the U.S. were contaminated with residues of a pesticide the Environmental Protection Agency considers a possible human carcinogen. The EWG explains that as kale has risen in popularity so has acreage of kale being farmed, this rapid jump could explain why kale has risen so dramatically on the Dirty Dozen list in such a short time.
Runner-up in the dirty dozen, 67 percent of spinach samples were found to have high a concentration of a neurotoxic insecticide, permethrin. This chemical has been linked to tremors and seizures. In total 97 percent of conventional spinach samples contained some sort of pesticide residues.
At a relatively low price in general, it makes so much sense to just buy organic spinach.
In no surprise, strawberries stayed at number one this year for the Dirty Dozen. Nearly 99 percent of the total samples had at least one pesticide, while 30 percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides.
Farmers typically use huge volumes of poisonous gases to sterilize their fields before planting, which has awful consequences when it comes to consuming this tasty berry. While some side effects of pesticide consumption may not prove as harmful as others, many of the chemicals used have been linked to cancer, neurological issues and hormone disruption.
There's no question when it comes to strawberries: pay the few extra bucks and buy organic, so you can eat your berries with confidence that you are eating pesticide-free!
What You Can Do
To keep your family out of harm's way, it's imperative to shop organic when it comes to the Dirty Dozen list for fruits and vegetables. If you can't buy organic (and even if you do), you should always wash your produce thoroughly before cutting, peeling, cooking or consuming.
Head to the Environmental Working Group's website to download your own Produce Shopper's Guide for 2019.
––Karly Wood & Shahrzad Warkentin
Featured photo: Scott Warman via Unsplash