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Should You Use the “Dirty Dozen” List to Shop for Produce?


Ask Keri: Should I use the Dirty Dozen list to pick produce at the grocery store?

Keri Says: Overall, I think the Dirty Dozen is an excellent resource to help people who are shopping on a budget avoid pesticide residues on their produce. However, there are a few things to consider while consulting it.

What is the Dirty Dozen?

The Dirty Dozen is an annual report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that ranks conventional (AKA not organic) fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticide residue found on each. The information is based on more than 40,000 produce samples tested (after having been washed) by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

RELATED: Grass-fed Beef vs. Organic Beef: Which Is Healthier?

The 12 fruits and veggies found to consistently have the most pesticide residue are put on the Dirty Dozen list, while those found to have the least residue get a spot on the opposite list, the Clean Fifteen.

Healthy favorites like strawberries, spinach, and kale (which was new to the top and was found to often be contaminated with a particularly toxic pesticide called dacthal) topped the 2019 Dirty Dozen list.

dirty dozen

What to Consider When Using the List

Okay, so you get the handy list and now you’re committed to buying organic strawberries. That’s a good thing. But maybe since you saw that corn was at the top of the Clean 15 list, you decide you’ll save a few cents and buy the conventional version.

RELATED: 5 Organic-ish Food Labels You Should Know About

Here’s the problem: The corn doesn’t have residue on it because of its protective husk, but it was still almost certainly grown using several pesticides. Those pesticides can poison farmworkers (and affect the health of people in neighboring communities), pollute waterways, destroy ecosystems, and threaten pollinators like bees.

In other words, there are many other reasons to buy organic aside from not ingesting residue, so if you have the resources to always choose it, it’s a better choice.

On the flip side, say you read that kale and spinach are totally contaminated and there isn’t an organic option at your store or you can’t afford that option. So you decide to skip the leafy greens that week. No! The benefits of regularly eating lots of different nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables will always outweigh the potential risks of taking in a little pesticide residue.

The bottom line? Buy organic as much as you possibly can and if you can’t do it all the time, use the Dirty Dozen as a reference point. And wherever you’re at, getting lots of produce on your plate, conventional or organic, should be your number one priority.


(Photos: Shutterstock)

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