The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen

By Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN

We’re right in the middle of summer which means we have a generous selection of fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers markets, gardens, grocery stores, etc.  Unfortunately many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat can contain many pesticides, so what are we to do??  Buy organic?  Avoid all together?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published their 2023 shopper’s guide to purchasing produce, in which they provide two lists – The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. The Dirty Dozen are the twelve fruits and vegetables that have been found to contain the highest level of pesticides. The EWG recommends purchasing organic varieties for those on the list to reduce your ingestion of pesticides. The Clean Fifteen are those with the lowest pesticide levels. But from this list, certain questions arise, like “If I can’t afford organic produce, should I skip eating fruits and vegetables all together?” A recent study found that this is what’s happening!

The list, which was put forth to help consumers know where to spend their organic dollar, is creating fear rather than helping consumers. A recent study showed that 55% of Americans believed organic produce was healthier than conventional, and another study found that people who couldn’t afford to purchase organic produce skipped eating any fruits and vegetables. The truth is, the health benefits obtained from eating fruits and vegetables of any type far outweigh any possible risk of consuming pesticides.

The bottom line: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans found that 85% of Americans don’t get enough fruit, and 90% of Americans don’t get the recommended number of vegetable servings per day. All fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and disease fighting phytochemicals, whether they’re conventionally or organically grown. Be proud of whatever produce you choose because you are doing something good for your body and health.

Try these ideas for potentially less pesticides:

  • Buy produce in season when you can find better deals on organic and the food has more nutrients
  • Look for growers at farmers markets who don’t use pesticides
  • Don’t count out frozen vegetables if you can’t find a fresh option
  • Remember that you don’t have to go to a specialty grocery store to buy organic because standards are the same at any store
  • Don’t forget to wash fruits and vegetables with running water!

Clean Fifteen

1.  Avocados 2.  Sweet Corn* 3.  Pineapple 
4.  Onions 5.  Papaya* 6.  Sweet Peas (frozen)
7.  Asparagus 8.  Honeydew Melon 9.  Kiwi
10. Cabbage 11.  Mushrooms 12.  Mangos
13.  Sweet Potatoes 14.  Watermelon 15.  Carrots

* A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.

Dirty Dozen

1.  Strawberries 2.  Spinach 3.  Kale, Collard & Mustard Greens 
4.  Peaches 5.  Pears 6.  Nectarines
7.  Apples 8.  Grapes 9.  Bell & Hot Peppers
10. Cherries 11.  Blueberries 12.  Green Beans

 If you can’t remember all 12, a general rule of thumb to go by is the thinner the skin, the more likely the fruit or vegetable is to contain a high amount of pesticides.  Think apple versus banana.  If there are pesticides on the banana they are most likely discarded with the peel.

Good Green Habits for Washing Produce

  • Mix 3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar (3:1 ) in a spray bottle.
  • Spray on fruits and veggies to get rid of pesticide residue.
  • Rinse with water after spraying.

-OR-

  • Fill a bowl with water and add 1/8 to 1/2 cup of vinegar, depending on the size of your bowl.
  • Place your fruits and veggies in the bowl.
  • Soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Rinse with water.
Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN
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