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Before You Bite, Check Your Produce's Pesticide Level

Bite into that nice, crunchy apple and you're also getting a mouthful of pesticide residue, according to the annual list of fruits and veggies with the most - and least - of the chemicals.

The so-called Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists are compiled annually by the nonprofit advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While the USDA has set limits on the amount of pesticide residue it deems safe, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables can still contain varying levels of the chemicals.

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For this year's lists, the EWG reported that 65 percent of the thousands of non-organic produce samples analyzed by the Agriculture Department tested positive for pesticide residue. "The USDA washes and peels the produce items that it tests and they still find pesticide residues on 65 percent of the samples," Alex Formuzis, a vice president of EWG, told CBS News.

For example, every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides. In contrast, only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides and none of the fruits and vegetables on the Clean Fifteen list tested positive for more than four pesticides.

Pesticides have been linked to developmental problems in children and can affect the nervous system as well as disrupt hormones in adults, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Some studies have linked pesticide exposure to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Although organic produce isn't sprayed with pesticides, it's typically costlier than conventional fruits and vegetables. For those on a budget, go for organic versions of the top offenders on the Dirty Dozen list and use the Clean Fifteen list to choose conventional produce with the lowest chemical levels.

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This year's Clean Fifteen: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.

This year's Dirty Dozen: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.

How to cut your consumption of pesticides in the produce you buy:

Gary Adamkiewicz, senior research scientist in environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Heath, suggests the following guidelines:


  • Contamination can be skin deep: Since some residues are on the surface only, go organic when you will be consuming the entire fruit, skin and all (strawberries and apples). If the fruit has a thick skin or peel that is discarded (bananas and pineapples), go conventional.
  • Wash the bad stuff away: Thoroughly washing produce can reduce (though not eliminate) some surface residues.
  • Mix it up: Eating a variety of produce from different sources will limit the possibility of high exposure from a single, pesticide-heavy fruit or vegetable.


Photo: w-ings/iStock


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