Dirty Dozen: Which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticides?


Sellers Nicola, right, and Mimmo wearing protective mask work in their fruits and vegetables shop at Milan’s Bonola market, Italy, Friday, May 8, 2020. The municipality of Milan reopened local markets Thursday, as the city is slowly returning to life after the long shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

(ABC4) – As the warmer months near, there is no doubt dining on fresh fruits and vegetables is just around the corner.

The Environmental Working Group, EWG, has released its annual “Dirty Dozen” of fruits and vegetables that contain the highest traces of pesticides.

Every year since 2004, EWG says it ranks the pesticide contamination of 46 popular fruits and vegetables. The organization produces its guide based on test results by the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration of more than 46,000 samples of produce.

EWG explains the samples are tested for pesticides after they have been prepared to be eaten, meaning the produce has been washed thoroughly and, when applicable, peeled.

“Whether organic or conventionally grown, fruits and vegetables are critical components of a healthy diet,” the group says. “However, many crops contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after washing, peeling or scrubbing, which the USDA does before testing each item.”

This year, EWG says it is also highlighting fungicides detected on citrus fruits tested by USDA, as well as tests they commissioned.

For 2021, EWG reports kale remains in the third spot on its Dirty Dozen list, joined by collard and mustard greens as being the items with the highest pesticide load.

The EWG found that almost 70% of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the United States contains potentially harmful chemical pesticide residues.

Key findings in EWG’s report include:

  • More than 90% of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and leafy greens tested positive for residue of two or more pesticides.
  • A single sample of kale, collard and mustard greens showed up to 20 different pesticides.
  • Spinach, on average, had 1.8 times as much pesticide residue, by weight, as any other crop tested.
  • Hop and bell peppers had the most pesticides detected (115 in total) and 21 more than the crops with the second-highest amount (kale, collard and mustard greens).

EWG’s Dirty Dozen of produce:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Peaches
  9. Pears
  10. Bell and hot peppers
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

EWG found the 15 produce items with the lowest amounts of pesticide residues as well. Here’s a look at EWG’s key findings of the ‘Clean Fifteen.’

  • Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Fewer than 2 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • The first seven Clean Fifteen crops tested positive for three or fewer pesticides on a single sample.
  • Almost 70 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 8 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.

EWG’s Clean Fifteen are:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Broccoli
  10. Cabbage
  11. Kiwi
  12. Cauliflower
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Cantaloupes

For more on EWG’s report, click here.

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