Pesticides in Produce: the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15

How to feed your vegetarian child

fruits and vegetablesIf you’ve ever taken a gander at my home page, you’ll notice that I’ve featured the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 since the very beginning. It’s a list of fruits and vegetables with the most and least amount of pesticide residues for produce sold in the U.S. It’s compiled each year by the Environmental Working Group and is considered by many to be an inimitable resource. Since the EWG just published their updated guide, I saw it as an opportunity to discuss their findings  and what it means for you.

First off, here’s a visual of the 2015 list (props go out to the fab website Sustainable Baby Steps for the gorgeous graphics):




These guides are useful shopping tools for making decisions about where to put your food dollars. In most cases, organic produce is more expensive than conventional and limited budgets sometimes mean tradeoffs. So, if you have to choose between, say an organic apple or an organic avocado, go for the apple, since avocados were found to be the “cleanest” in the entire study.

A few “good news” highlights of the report include:

  • Sales of organic fruits and vegetables nearly tripled between 2005 and 2014, which (hopefully) translates to more accessible and affordable pesticide-free produce.
  • Upwards of 80 percent of pineapples, kiwi, papayas, and mango had no residues at all.
  • Just 1 percent of avocados showed pesticide residues (as if avocados needed more good PR).

Here were a few of the not-so-pretty findings:

  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample showed 15 different pesticide residues.
  • Apple juice was found to have residues of 6 different pesticides, including a pesticide in some samples that was banned in Europe three years ago.

You may notice that the Dirty Dozen has tacked on a “Plus” category that includes two additional items — hot peppers and kale/collard greens. These vegetables were frequently found to have residues from particularly toxic pesticides, therefore the EWG is calling them out so folks who eat a lot of them can consider organic instead.

dirty dozen clean 15 2015

My takeaway? Use this list. Make it the homepage of your smart phone. Or follow my lead, since I’m planning on having it tattoed on my forearms (don’t tell Mr. Mom’s Kitchen).

But what about when you don’t have access to organics or don’t have a single extra dime to put towards your shopping cart? Here’s what:


Translation: From a health perspective, you’re better off eating the conventionally grown apple than not eating it at all. Just be sure to listen to your mother’s advice: wash it first.

As an aside, I would be remiss in covering this topic if I didn’t mention the fact that health alone isn’t the only reason to buy organic. The Environmental Working Group puts it most succinctly when they say, “Buying organic sends a message that you support environmentally-friendly farming practices that minimize soil erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife.”

You can read more on that topic if you jump on over here to a post I wrote a while back.

 What say you?


02.28.2015 at 11:18 AM #

Cynthia Jones

Hi Katie – re:potatoes, does washing, peeling & cooking negate the pesticide effects?
Thanks – this is helpful info

02.28.2015 at 11:18 AM #

Katie Morford

The produce used in the tests is washed. In some cases, it is peeled, such as with bananas or oranges. I imagine for potatoes, they are not peeled, so presumably, peeling would make an impact on pesticide residues. I don’t know if say, cooking the potatoes in water, would make a further impact. Good question.

02.28.2015 at 12:10 PM #

Pam R

Thanks for the update!

02.28.2015 at 12:10 PM #

Katie Morford

You’re very welcome 🙂

03.04.2015 at 1:07 PM #


Thanks Katie! It’s always a good reminder, unfortunately where we live some of these things like organic grapes aren’t available, so I guess we’ll have to go without. 🙁

03.04.2015 at 1:07 PM #

Katie Morford

When you come across some organic ones, buy a whole mess of them to freeze for a rainy day!

10.03.2015 at 6:03 PM #


My concern is how to know if organic produce is really organic?

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