With so many options in the food world, it can be tough to know what to avoid and what to buy. While there is no doubt that whole, plant-based foods are among the healthiest, even then there is produce that you might want to pass on due to pesticide contamination. Nearly every non-organic crop in the U.S. is grown using pesticides. These chemicals are used to ensure high crop yields for farmers, however, they can be detrimental to people and animals if ingested. According to Toxins Action Center, “Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health hazards, ranging from short-term impacts such as headaches and nausea to chronic impacts like cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption.” Children are particularly susceptible to pesticides and some studies shown that exposure can interfere with central nervous system development in kids under the age of 12.

The best way to ensure that you are buying the best produce you possibly can is to buy organic. If you’re not exactly sure what the “organic” label on your food means, the USDA defines organic agriculture as “products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.”


Of course, buying all-organic produce all the time is not possible for every family as it tends to be more expensive. The good news is if you’re looking to eat right, there are certain fruits and vegetables that you should always buy organic to avoid undue pesticide exposure.

Luckily, it’s easy to learn what’s good and what’s not. Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of produce that ranks with the highest concentration of pesticides. To determine which items typically have the highest pesticide levels, the EWG analyzes tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This year, they found that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides. Further, USDA researchers found a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples they analyzed. What’s more troubling about this, however, is the fact that pesticide residues remained on fruits and vegetables even after they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

So what can you do to limit your exposure? According to Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst, “If you don’t want to feed your family food contaminated with pesticides, the EWG Shopper’s Guide helps you make smart choices, whether you’re buying conventional or organic produce.”

The culprits on 2017’s list are:


  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet bell peppers
  12. Potatoes

Their samples of strawberries alone tested positive for 20 different pesticides while three-quarters of their spinach samples contained residue of a neurotoxin pesticide that has been banned in Europe.

If you can’t buy organic, then the EWG can still help you make better choices via their Clean Fifteen, or the list of produce that is least likely to contain pesticide residues. The top five on this year’s list are sweet corn, avocados, pineapple, cabbage, and onions.

You can read the rest of the Dirty Dozen list by visiting their official website. To see the rest of the Clean Fifteen, click here.

Image source: White78/Shutterstock