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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DEE107 5/22/2021
JWINKSLLC 1/13/2021
I love strawberries. I wash them well and pray a lot. Report
DEE107 1/5/2021
thanks Report
CD1260471 10/10/2020
Here is 2020’s Dirty Dozen
https:// www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.ph
CD1260471 10/10/2020
Organic when I can. I do have the current lists in my head. Report
Good information. Thank you. Report
thanks Report
Great info! Report
good to know Report
Very important information Report
Good to know. Thanks. Report
thank you! Report
Great info Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
1 is missing from the list, potatoes. They usually have the most amount of pesticides because of the spraying of the plant before potato is harvested and then sprayed again after potatoes are harvested. Report
Good stufff Report
I buy organic corn. The wheat, corn, and soy has been said to be nearly all GMO (genetically modified organisms) for years, which means the cellular structure of the plants has been modified. Some of these modifications are to make them less appealing to pests, and some to make them immune to Roundup (or at least, that is my understanding). Unless they have changed the standard, as one prominent politician wanted, Organic still means non-gmo as well as the fact that no pesticides have been used in growing them. The argument for this process of "changing" what God made perfect, is to save money by not having to spray the plants with pesticides (and if the bugs won't eat them, why should I?) and so the farmers won't have to keep the weeds out during their growing period. At the point they are ready to harvest, they just drown the weeds (and the plants, too) with Roundup and "poof" -- weeds are gone! Problem is, I am NOT immune to Roundup! Just heard that there are some cereals and Oats that are being recalled due to heavy loads of Roundup.....wonder how that Roundup got on them? Report
Very important information! Thanks for sharing! Report
I have to buy everything, my community forbids vegetable gardens. Report
Great information! Thanks! Report
Great article! I am very concerned about the pesticides and chemicals going into my body but can't afford to buy everything organic. These lists are a lifesaver! Thank you! Report
I buy organic whenever I can, but to be honest, I am more concerned about what pesticides are doing to our environment than I am about what they do to my body. I'd love to see some actual research (of typcial consumers, not farmers or others exposed to extreme levels). If you doubt the impact on our environment, just look up the areas that are safe to harvest shellfish here in Florida before and after heavy rainfall. That's concrete data and there's no agenda from anyone involved. My local, tidal saltwater creek is too polluted but they can be transported and kept in "clean" areas for a while to make them safe to eat. Very sad. Report
Bummer but extremely important info. Interesting comments as well. Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
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