Which Dirty Dozen Produce Should Be Purchased Organic?

Learn which foods tend to have the least amount of pesticides

Baskets of organic vegetables
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The main reason you choose to buy locally-grown, organic produce is because you lower your risk of ingesting potentially harmful chemicals from pesticides and herbicides. However, organic food is admittedly more expensive and in some cases harder to find.

What Are the Effects of Pesticides on Foods?

Non-organic farmers use pesticides full of chemicals on fruits and vegetables to kill weeds and insects. As the plants grow, pesticides are absorbed, and residues can linger on fruit and vegetable skins all the way to your kitchen, even after you wash them.

Conventional growers use chemical pesticides that can damage your brain and nervous system, disrupt your hormones and contribute to cancer.

In developing children, pesticides have been found to create neurological problems, which may impair learning, memory, and attention. And since children eat more food than adults relative to their size, they are less capable of processing chemicals that enter their smaller bodies. 

In short, by buying organic products, your food is certified to have fewer pesticides and use less chemical-based fertilizer in farming.

The Dirty Dozen List of Fruits and Vegetables

If you want to maximize the good you do for your body while minimizing the cost, you could choose to purchase organic fruits and vegetables that tend to have fewer pesticides. It is estimated that if a consumer avoids eating non-organically grown produce in the "dirty dozen" list, pesticide exposure can be reduced by up to 80 percent.

This following list was compiled by the Environmental Working Group from approximately 96,000 studies by the USDA and FDA of the 49 fruits and vegetables listed between 2000 and 2015. There are many fruits and vegetables that are not on this list—these were chosen because they are most commonly eaten.

Dirty dozen foods that might have more pesticides:

  • Celery (the worst)
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries (U.S. grown)
  • Nectarines
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Spinach
  • Kale and collard greens
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Grapes (Outside the U.S.)

The Clean 15 That May Be Fine to Buy Non-Organic

The "clean 15" is a list of produce that is less likely to have pesticides or are safer to purchase conventionally because of how it is eaten or protected from pesticides in the way it is grown or cultivated. 

Clean 15 foods less likely to have pesticides:

  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papaya
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes

Pesticides on Popular Produce 

The following list is compiled based on scores by the Environmental Working Group ranking the most problematic in terms of pesticides to least likely to have pesticide residue. The fruits and vegetables were washed or peeled as most people use the produce, for example, apples were washed, and bananas and oranges peeled.

Foods that may have pesticide levels (after the dirty dozen):

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