Which Fruits and Veggies are in the New Dirty Dozen?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We often hear that organic produce is "cleaner" than conventional (non-organic) produce and free of pesticides; however, organic remains more expensive and isn't available everywhere.

Which conventional fruits and vegetables contain more pesticide residue? Which ones have the least?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently completed an analysis of conventional produce to measure pesticide residue levels. Based on the results of almost 34,000 samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration. Samples were tested after being washed or peeled, to mimic what consumers would do. Therefore, unwashed and unpeeled produce would likely contain even more concentrations of pesticide residues.

Eating the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables, referred to as “The Dirty Dozen,” exposes the average person to about 15 different pesticides each day, while someone eating the least contaminated will be exposed to fewer than two pesticides each day. (To see the full list, go here).

The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Buy Organic

If you have budget constraints, your money is doing more for your health when you put it towards organic varieties of the following fruits and vegetables (listed in descending order, starting with greatest levels pesticide contamination):

1. Strawberries
2. Apples
3. Nectarines
4. Peaches
5. Celery
6. Grapes
7. Cherries
8. Spinach
9. Tomatoes
10. Sweet Bell Peppers
11. Cherry Tomatoes
12. Cucumbers

The Clean 15: Save Your Money & Buy Conventional

If going totally organic is too difficult or pricey, play it safe and eat the following conventional produce items to minimize your exposure. These are known to have the least amount of pesticide residue (listed in ascending order, starting with of lowest levels of pesticide contamination):

1. Avocados
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Frozen Sweet Peas
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangos
9. Papayas
10. Kiwis
11. Eggplant
12. Honeydew Melon
13. Grapefruit
14. Cantaloupe
15. Cauliflower

To see receive a PDF version of the guides, you can sign up for the EWG's newsletter here).

When eating conventional foods, be certain to peel away edible skins and outer leaves (such as those on lettuce) as pesticides are often concentrated there. Remember to wash all produce (conventional and organic) thoroughly with a natural fruit and vegetable cleanser. Peeling and washing can help reduce (not eliminate) pesticide exposure, but also results in the loss of valuable vitamins and nutrients (like fiber). When you have the choice between an organic item and one that’s conventionally grown, choose organic as much as possible. 

For more information on eating organic foods on a budget, read this article.

I keep a copy of this list on a note in my phone, and I consult it when I go to the grocery store.

Do you have "priorities" when buying organic? Do you follow this list?

Last updated in April 2016

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_CYNDY55_ 1/15/2018
Great info, Thanks! Report
Good information! Report
This is important information. I did know which ones were considered the dirty dozen, but it is good to be reminded. Report
My father, who grew up on a farm, actually died years ago of the non-Hodgkins lymphoma to which Hawkthree refers. He said the crop duster planes would just blow the pesticides over the fields while they worked in them. Of course, back then they had no idea that such exposure was bad for you. Report
There's a type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma nicknamed "farmers' cancer" because of farmers being exposed to the pesticides they use. Report
you tell us to peel the produce but isn't most of the nutrients in the peel? We always buy celery (YIKES) Report
I just downloaded the link and got the free "dirty dozen" app sent to my cell phone. I use the list for all my produce shopping. It's interesting that the more research you do on your own, the more devout you will be with buying organic. You can't rinse off pesticide that has been absorbed into a potato! We are having fun with our own organic vegetable garden- making dinner is much more fun using ingredients I grew myself. Report
I buy some organic fruits and vegies (Trader Joe's or Raley's). Last spring my family started a vegie and fruit garden and had corn, peppers, tomatoes cucumbers, pumpkin, watermelon and 3 kinds of melons. Can't wait to start another this spring. at a previous residence we had apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, lemons and limes. Would love to plant those fruit trees again but it's possible since we moved, yard is small and mostly pool. The pool is necessary during summer because of the weather and provides enjoyable entertainment. Report
The research outcomes on GM foods, mono culture crops, animal husbandry, is not good environmentally, socially or personally.
My family grow our own organic fruit and veg. The soil at our place when we moved was toxic and parched of nutrients. We made our own soil!
We buy organic at local markets twice a week. We drink filtered water in stainless steel water bottles.
Use your money and your time wisely. Report
Who are the "Environmental Working Group" ??? Is it a bunch of businesses that sell Organic Produce, and they need more customers now?? Let us know please.....................usually this is the case with these groups that set up their own "testing" and get the results that they need. Report
Great information! Report
Glad to have this information, sorry to hear it is the truth. Report
Great tips...Thank you...I never really thought of it before. Report
thanks for the heads up. I usually don't worry if I'm not eating the skin, but cutting through the skin can drag pathogens into the meat of the fruit/veggie. I will be more careful going forward. . . Report
thanks for the heads up. I usually don't worry if I'm not eating the skin, but cutting through the skin can drag pathogens into the meat of the fruit/veggie. I will be more careful going forward. . . Report
I would love nothing better than to buy all organic. I do believe that it makes a difference. And I don't believe that something is safe just because it is fed to the general American Population (please!). That's a big responsibility, feeding millions of people. Quantity is a consideration when thinking big scale. For me and mine, we are doing well to buy vegetables to begin with! Budget is a big issue for us. Or should I say small issue... Anyway, we will just do our best! Report
I wash everything! My husband laughs at me when I take a head of lettuce or some romaine or collard greens and soak them in cold water and then dry each one individually before I wrap them in paper towel and store them in the refrigerator. You would be amazed at how much dirt and sand are in the bottom of the sink when I'm through.
Erin Report
The ignorance and lies about organics being spouted here make me cringe.It's just to make more money? What? Have you done ANY research at all on organic farming methods? Do you realize how absolutely detrimental conventional farming is?

Guess what, your old relatives are healthy because back in their day "organic" farming was how ALL farms ran. It's a relatively new thing to destroy the soil, use persistent petroleum based pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, monoculture, use GM seed stock, etc. So, it's flippant at best to use that as an excuse. Our food system is atrocious and unless we care enough to vote with our dollars nothing will change. Period.

Do some research before spouting off.
I've worked in organic foods for going on 6 years and I've read multiple books, had tons of training and I even work with one of the folks who helped write the original organic rule. Organic farmers are passionate and dedicated people and to read this nonsense is like a slap in the face to all the good work they are doing. Our farmer vendors are amazing people who produce some of the tastiest produce I've ever had. Sure, large scale organics may not be perfect but it's MUCH better than large scale conventional farming.

This is why I'm so darn glad I'm sterilized.
With such blindness towards the terrible things that are going on - that we can help stop! - the world is going to be a pretty awful place in a couple decades. Hope your offspring enjoy it. Report
save your money and simply wash your veggies, they sell veggie wash at market or you can get recipe on line Report
I buy some organic, but of course it never looks as nice as the other vegetables or fruit. I do believe you should rinse everything off, but like BKP...says, our parents and grandparents lived a good long life, without all these worries. My Grandmother is 102 yrs. old, has never bought organic, and is still truckin' along. Report
Have you seen someone prepping salads and they dump the lettuce and vegetables right out of the bag into the bowl? I went to a buffet...and guess what they dumped the bagged salad directly into the bin.
It doesn't matter how you buy lettuce/vegetables for a salad wash..wash...rinsing is better that nothing..I use vinegar water or salad wash. Report
We lived in Mexico for 15 years, and had to disinfect our fruits and vegetables. The pesticides were the least of our worries.
Don't get me wrong, we LOVE Mexico. It was just worth it not to get sick! Report
What makes organic foods so much more expensive is the drawn-out, rigorous, and costly certification process. Small-time producers may be growing organically but can't afford the certification and so can't use the organic label under penalty of law. However, there are organizations that promote and teach organic farming to families growing just enough food to feed themselves and to farmers growing food to sell because it's much cheaper than buying GM seeds, petroleum-based fertilizers, and chemical pesticides! And lots of countries like India and yes, even the US, have ruined much of their viable land by polluting it with conventional farming methods. Report
Well, that might be true, but all pesticides is use in the US legally anyway, are all water soluble so a simple rinse under the faucet would take care of any residual pesticides left.. so personally i 'll save my money and buy regular produce... Report
I used to use the excuse that I couldn't afford the high prices of Organic to buy the more contaminated and "better" looking conventional produce . . . . but after reading so much nasty stuff about what we were "eating" that was DEADLY, and realizing that it's not just accidental that we have such an increase in cancers, especially among our dear children !!! I decided that, all things considered, the price for Organic was not all that high.

As my dear Sicilian Grandfather used to say: "If we don't eat it - - then the doctor will." God rest his dear soul. . . . a wonderful gardener all his life!
I have no ideal where the produce comes from one way or the other. Or if any of the produce is really as clean as the farmers state, so on that count I wont be paying extra when I'm not sure about the additional quality of organic. And at this point I can't afford the extra cost any how. Report
While I don't doubt that pesticides are bad for you and that some products may contain more than others, I don't think it is worth the money for most organic products. They are at least double the price in my area and the quality isn't any better. As well, I don't believe that you can truly have organic fruits and veggies unless you grow them yourself, sorry but a USDA certified organic sticker doesn't mean anything to me.
There is always going to be something that someone is warning us about and I think you have to make your own best decision. Report
I'm really surprised that raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and sprouts are not listed among the "dirty dozen," regardless of whether they are organically grown or not, since they are among the most difficult & near impossible things to clean! Report
as far as i'm concerned , " organic" is just another food fad that all the food companies are trying to cash in on, like all the "low carb" and " no sugar added " stuff. how do we really know it's really even organic? it's probably the same thing with a bigger price tag. Report
Since recently being laid off and not having a year-round farmer's market readily available or a Whole Foods or any of those other fancy market places, I have WalMart and my local grocery store to buy food at. Not a lot of great choice when it comes to organic, the cost is outrageous and I practically have to eat it before I leave the store or it's spoiled. Anyone else in this situation who is concerned with pesticides and also can't afford those fancy "fruit washes", a naturopathic physician recommended filling your kitchen sink with water and pouring in a cup of hydrogen peroxide (cheap - you can get a big bottle at the dollar store) - let your fruits/veggies soak for 15 minutes and then rinse. Probably not pesticide free at this point, but better than they were when you left the store. Report
My thoughts about organic and not organic is that primarily it is meant to cost more money to consumers. My mother is a very healthy 88 + years old and has always eaten those "dirty" foods. If she can live that long with it, I'm sure the rest of us can survive. Report
Too bad I like far more of the ones on the dirty list :( Report
Oh, which reminds me; I wash all my veggies with tap water first and then with filtered water. Never use any cleansers....afraid of them too!!! Report
I knew some of these but, not others. Thanks so much for this blog Stepfanie. I sincerely appreciate the full list from the website you suggested. Carrying it in my purse to save a few bucks while shopping! My daughter in CA buys organic, local from the farmers' market; the one in MN is a skeptic to whom I keep sending these links in an e-mail. She too thinks organic foods are a gimmick to make money - a waste of her hard earned money! My DH thinks the same but, goes along with my decisions, thank god!

When we go shopping together, I used to go over a smaller list I had and buy organic based on it. I hardly eat apples ( DH says don't worry - I don't need organic and buys his bag of apples from Costco- he loves large ones and organic are never that huge!). If I don't go shopping with him, we end up with conventional veggies, although, he is sweet enoguh to buy me organic fruits always except when grapes are 99 cents a pound - he simply cannot resist the sale price! LOL. Report
Consider this: Americans on average actually spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than many other countries (see 'Hungry Planet: What the World Eats').

Also, I highly recommend "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. A journalist, he became interested in what is actually in the food we eat. He creates three (actually four) meals, and then traces their ingredients as far back as he can. The four meals are: typical fast food meal, 'organic', beyond organic (farmers who care), and self-harvested.
WOW! This was quite an eye-opener for me, and I will certainly keep these two lists handy in my kitchen and with my shopping lists. Thanks for sharing the information - in fact, I believe I will share this article with a few friends! Report
I commend this article for suggesting ways to eat healthily without breaking the bank. While I agree that 'organic' foods can be expensive, and may in fact be overpriced since some organic food options have become big business (new 'organic' chains, but don't forget conventional food industry giants trying to cash in on the the new market), there are many hidden costs associated with conventional foods. We often think we are saving money by buying cheap conventional foods, without considering these hidden costs. Some of our cheapest food sources, corn is one example, are subsidized by the government (see book 'Omnivore's Dilemma', some good documentaries on this issue too). We may not pay for those subsidies at the counter, but we do pay for it through taxes. Other ways producers are able to offer cheap food, bananas for example, is through unfair trade practices that negatively affect farmers in developing countries (see documentary "Life and Debt"). This incurs a 'social' cost.

Another hidden cost comes at the expense of the environment. Pesticides and fertilizers leach into the ground and waterways, often take a long time to break down, and don't always hit their intended targets (called 'drift'). I once spoke with a farmer's market farmer who explained that she didn't have organic certification because although she didn't use harmful pesticides or fertilizers, her neighbor did. The chemicals drifted onto her land via the wind, or leached into the water which also flowed on her land. Those trace amounts prevented her from getting certified, a process that requires frequent testing to ensure the soil has been free of certain types of pesticides and fertilizers for three years in a row. (I haven't heard as much about the poor post-certification regulations that some people have commented on, but initial certification at least seems credible.) Another hidden environmental cost comes from monocrop farming (a conventional farming method in which large swaths of land are planted with only one crop), which leads to cheaper food, but also to increased vulnerability to pests requiring more and stronger pesticides. Monocrop farming also eventually destroys the fertility of the soil, leads to erosion, and requires new fields to be cleared (including forests which must be cut down).

When you buy organic, but especially when you buy from a local farmer or farmer's market committed to sustainable farming practices, there are fewer, if any, hidden costs. Organic labeling does ensure that you will be ingesting fewer toxins, and that the environment is being spared to some degree. Buying from local farmers and farmer's markets often guarantees you much more, but you have to be willing to ask questions. Local farmers often do not use harmful pesticides and fertilizers on their produce, or unnecessary antibiotics on their livestock. They usually plant more than one crop, rotate crops, and create less waste. You get the added benefit of supporting the local economy, reducing your food's carbon footprint (it travels less), get to know people in your community, AND the food almost always tastes much better.
I always buy the dirty dozen organic fruits. No it is not a hype. Yes they do taste better. The better quality stuff I put in my body now, the less I will have to spend in medication later. Report
the only reason they're the worst fruit is because they're in demand.
so famers want to make more as fast as they can.
im surprized they're not like cloning fruit even.
I grow and preserve what I can in the summer. Of course you have buy fresh throughout the winter.
I've always felt that "Organic" is just a way of putting a higher price on it. They have to use something to make sure they have a mass crop. I know they don't dust and entire field with baking soda. Which works well against any leaf eating insect. Report
I always buy organic fruits and vegetables when I have a choice. As a single person, it is easier for me to justify spending the extra money on things I believe will benefit my health and body. For others, the choice isn't as easy. Report
I can't wait until we have a house and I can have a garden. There are so many foods that we could plant ourselves and not have to worry about the cost of organic. Although I eat a lot of the "dirty dozen" items, those are also usually the most expensive items to buy organic here. Report
Great info. Thanks! Report
Thank you so much for this blog! Report
I grow what I can for about 6 months of the year....carrots, tomatoes, radishes, spring onions, strawberries. All they get is water, sunlight and good homemade compost. They taste delicious. The rest of the year I buy what is cheap and wash it well. Report
I have just started to eat healthy and get rid of the junk in my diet. I am eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Some of them are on both lists. I certainly won't buy organic as it is way more expensive and I am not sure how regulated it is. I am much more concerned that I am getting away from the fatty, cholesterol laden processed foods I have been eating in the past. I wash my fruits and veggies, with guess what, tap water! Like someone else said, I also drink tap water, no bottles. What a waste of money that is. I don't have money to through around. Fact is even the conventional fruits and veggies are more expensive than a lot of the junky fatty food. I would rather get this huge amount of weight off me eating regular fruits and veggies than worry about pesticides. There are so many "studies" out there, who knows who is funding what? I am happy with my choices. Report
It makes sense, but I can't be bothered... Report
I am speculative about "organic" produce. I have read articles about how produce that is labeled organic actually is not well regulated and you can throw a lot of money to the wind by purchasing it. Report
A month ago, I signed up for an organic CSA delivery. I sign up for what I want (fruit, veggies, or both) and they deliver. Most of the produce is local, too. Sometimes it seems a bit pricey, but it's worth it to not have to shop as much. ;) Report
I buy organic on the fruits and veggies that I feel there is no way to adequately clean it. Celery is the perfect example. The way it grows and the fact that it has a high water content tells me that it sucks up the pesticides and fertilizers with which the soil has been treated. If you don't believe this, color a small glass of water with blue food coloring and stick a stem of celery in it as you would a plant that you're trying to start roots on. After a day or so, you'll see that the food coloring migrates up the stalk.

Since I don't normally peel bell peppers, that would probably be another good one to buy organic. Peaches, I wouldn't worry so much about because I would wash and peel a peach before eating it and it grows on a tree, not directly in the soil.

My point is that I do buy some organic fruits and vegetables, but if washing and peeling will remove most of the toxins, I don't spend the extra cash.

I do keep a small organically grown vegetable garden during the summer months and I also shop at local farmers' markets. Even though the vendors at a farmers' market may not be organic growers, there are still benefits to buying locally. First, the food is not transported so far, which reduces the carbon footprint of what I eat. Second, the produce is fresher, tastier, and less expensive than what I can buy in the grocery store.

It may be surprising to some to learn that most of the "fresh" produce they buy at a grocery store has travelled and average of 1,500 miles before it reaches their tables. It has often been harvested a week to 10 days prior to hitting the grocers's shelves. The fresher the produce, the longer it will last in your fridge. So, sometimes paying a little bit more for locally grown foods saves you money in the long run because the produce doesn't go bad before you can use it up. Report
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