Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes the latest USDA data on produce and compiles a list called the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen.
These lists tell us the types of fruits and vegetables that are currently being grown with the most and least pesticides, based on the latest available numbers, and are intended to help guide your produce purchasing habits.
If you want to focus your purchases of organic produce to only those that are essential, then the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists are exactly the guides you need! These will show you which produce you should prioritize buying organic from a health perspective (though there are environmental and worker’s rights reasons to buy organic when you can, too).
To come up with this year’s list, the EWG parsed through USDA data on nearly 50,000 samples of the most popular fruits and veggies.
After washing, the EWG found that nearly 75% of non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contained residues of pesticides. To rank each type of produce from “clean” to “dirty,” the EWG assigns each one a score based on the:
- percent of tested samples that had detectable pesticides;
- percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides;
- average number of pesticides found on a single sample;
- average amount of pesticides found per sample;
- maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample;
- and total number of pesticides found on the crop.
All 6 of these categories are weighted equally in determining the rankings, since they convey different but equally relevant information about pesticide levels on produce. So the “Dirty Dozen” list tells us which crops are currently showing up with the highest volume and variety of pesticides – and these are the ones to always buy organic this year.
Here is the 2023 Dirty Dozen list:
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell & Hot Peppers
- Green Beans
Blueberries and green beans are new additions to this year’s Dirty Dozen list. Both crops have troubling concentrations of pesticides that can harm the human nervous system, called organophosphate insecticides. Tests of 765 non-organic blueberry samples collected in 2020 and 2021 found more than 90 percent had pesticide residues, up from 81 percent with detectable residues in 2014, and the EWG found that several green bean samples had residues of acephate, a toxic pesticide.
In addition, more than 90% of non-organic strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and grapes sampled this year tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
The 2023 Clean 15
As is the case every year, most of 2023’s “cleanest” produce has a tough outer peel, husk, or shell that is removed prior to eating. Makes sense!
Now, obviously many of the items on this list are foods that I don’t generally recommend you eat much (or any) of due to other factors, such as high carb content, or gut irritating lectins (corn, I’m looking at you). But that’s a whole other kettle of fish! And I know that the reality is that there will be times when many of us will be having some of the foods on the list (cuz variety is the spice of life, and hey, they’re still better for you than flour and sweetener-containing processed foods!) So for those times, it’s useful for you to know that all of these are safe to buy non-organic.
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
Carrots are new additions to this year’s list, knocking off cantaloupe for the title of purist produce tested. Almost 65% of these fruit and vegetable samples had no detectable pesticide residues after preparation. Avocados and sweet corn samples were the cleanest tested, and less than 2% of them had any detectable pesticides.
Every year, the EWG’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists provide an overview of the fruits and vegetables that contain the most and least pesticides. These lists can help you decide where it’s worth it to spend the extra money on organic produce, versus saving your cash for some high quality pastured meats!
To view the full report, go here: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
And for a quick-reference guide to the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen, EWG has a printable version that you can post on your fridge or take with you when you go shopping! You can find it in my shop.