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Strawberries, Grapes, and Kale Make the ‘Dirty Dozen’ List of Most Pesticides

March 21, 2024

The Environmental Working Group issued its annual Dirty Dozen list this week, cataloging the 12 nonorganic fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticides. The EWG also announced its Clean Fifteen, a list of the 15 produce items with the least amount of pesticides. Topping the Dirty Dozen list: Strawberries, spinach, kale, grapes, and peaches.

Many of the 254 unique pesticides and fungicides the EWG found in produce have been linked to potential health risks, and regularly consuming high-pesticide food may have negative long-term effects on health and lifespan. A 2019 Harvard study found that frequent exposure to high-pesticide fruits and vegetables could negate the heart-health benefits of eating produce. Other studies on common fungicides and pesticides link certain chemicals to risks to the reproductive system, thyroid, and heart, and some may increase the risk of cancer

Here’s what you need to know about the EWG’s latest pesticide report. 

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How does the EWG name the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen?

The EWG pulls data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to identify the most and least pesticide-contaminated produce. These two government agencies collectively tested 47,510 samples of 46 different kinds of fruit and vegetables over the past year. 

In total, the EWG found pesticides in 75 percent of all nonorganic produce and in 95 percent of the Dirty Dozen list. It identified 254 pesticides and fungicides across the samples (which were either washed, scrubbed, or peeled before testing). 

What If I Can’t Always Buy Organic Produce?

The best way to avoid the pesticide residue that the EWG reports contaminates most produce in a grocery store is to buy organic. Of course, that’s not always affordable or even possible. That’s why these lists are helpful; aim to buy the Dirty Dozen items organic, and you can feel more confident reaching for conventional versions of the fruits and veggies on the Clean Fifteen list (and there are plenty of good ones, including avocados, pineapple, asparagus, and corn). 

Even when it comes to the Dirty Dozen, there’s an argument to be made that nonorganic strawberries, spinach, and grapes still offer more nutritional benefits than the potential harm of pesticides. While evidence of the dangers of pesticides continues to grow, many researchers note the need for more human trials to make more certain conclusions.

So if the choice is between buying conventional or no produce at all, you may be better off opting for the produce, which is still full of fiber and essential micronutrients. Just remember that it’s even more important to thoroughly wash and peel any nonorganic produce. Also, if fresh organic produce isn’t available, frozen is another good option.

The 2024 Dirty Dozen

These are the items the EWG found to contain the highest levels of pesticides when grown conventionally:

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

The EWG found the most pesticides on kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and hot and bell peppers. 

The 2024 Clean Fifteen

These are the 15 items that contain the lowest concentrations of pesticides, according to the EWG. Nearly 65 percent of the samples of these items contained no detectable pesticide residue:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Frozen sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Watermelon
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Mango
  14. Sweet Potatoes
  15. Carrots

The EWG has been publishing these guides annually since 2004.

Read next: Pesticide May Be Lurking In Your Oatmeal, New Study Finds

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