I was visiting a small farm near my hometown and the farmer told me that he uses pesticides on his plum trees. I asked him why and he told me that the return on his crop is too small without them. I find this troubling because, as a retired teacher farming for fun, he doesn’t need the income so why use the pesticides?
This got me thinking about products with the highest pesticide levels and which products are best to buy organic.
The 2011 “dirty dozen” list reflects testing data from the 2010 harvest. However, pesticide use is weather-dependent and often varies by farm, so the list may not wholly reflect the pesticide residue content of the products in your grocery store. Keeping this in mind, The Daily Green article “The New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic” by Dan Shapley, includes both fruits and vegetables cited in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) current list as well as products that have made the “dirty dozen” list in the past.
Below is the New Dirty Dozen list (in reference to The Daily Green):
1. Apples: Once again topping the 2011 dirty dozen list: apples. Apples are by far the worst offenders. I would never feed my own kids non-organic apples, as the arsenic levels are, simply put, crazy. Fungus and insect threats prompt farmers to spray various chemicals on their orchards; more than 40 different pesticides have been detected on apples. Not surprisingly, pesticide residue is also found in apple juice and applesauce, making all apple products smart foods to buy organic.
Peeling apples may reduce the pesticide residue but you could also be peeling away the fruit’s most beneficial nutrients. If you can’t find organic apples, safer alternatives include watermelon, bananas and tangerines.
2. Celery: Another perennial food on the dirty dozen list is celery. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found more than 60 different pesticides on celery. If you can’t find organic celery, safer alternatives with a similar crunch include broccoli, radishes and onions.
3. Strawberries: Strawberries, like apples, always make the list because of fungus. Nearly 60 different pesticideshave been found, though fewer on frozen strawberries. Safer alternatives may include kiwi and pineapple.
4. Peaches: More than 60 pesticides have been found on peaches, although canned peaches. contain far fewer pesticides. If you can’t find organic peaches, try watermelon, tangerines, oranges and grapefruits.
5. Spinach: Leading the leafy green pesticide residue category is spinach, with nearly 50 different pesticides. While frozen spinach has nearly the same amount, canned spinach has had fewer detected pesticides.
6. Nectarines (Imported): Nectarines, at least imported ones, are among the most highly contaminated tree fruits. Domestic nectarines are much better for you, but overall 33 pesticides have been detected on nectarines. Safe alternatives include pineapple, papaya and mango.
7. Grapes (Imported): Oh grapes. We all love them, but they are also high on the list. Imported grapes can have more than 30 pesticides. Raisins, not surprisingly, also have high pesticide residue tests.
9. Potatoes: America’s favorite vegetable is the potato; unfortunately, more than 35 pesticides have been detected in USDA testing. Sweet potatoes offer a delicious alternative with less chance of pesticide residue.
10. Blueberries: Blueberries frequently make the dirty dozen list with more than 50 pesticides detected. Frozen blueberries have proved somewhat less contaminated. Unfortunately, obvious alternatives like cranberries and cherries, while not currently on the dirty dozen list, are also often contaminated. When organic blueberries aren’t available, consider topping your breakfast cereal with bananas.
11. Lettuce: Joining spinach in the leafy greens category, lettuce also makes the dirty dozen list. More than 50 pesticides have been identified on lettuce. If you can’t find organic lettuce, a nice alternatives is asparagus.
12. Kale (tie): A super-food, kale doesn’t traditionally suffers from pests and disease; however, kale has been found to have high amounts of pesticide residue when tested over the past two years. Safer alternatives include cabbage, asparagus, broccoli and dandelion greens.
12. Collard Greens (tie): Tied with kale for last spot on the 2011 dirty dozen list, collard greens tests have revealed more than 45 pesticides. Alternatives include brussels sprouts, dandelion greens and cabbage.
In general, tree fruits, berries and leafy greens dominate the list. The USDA tests products which have undergone typical household preparations. And while products like melons, avocado, corn and bananas, and other thick-skin veggies and fruits tend to have the lowest amounts of pesticide residue, the USDA still recommends they be peeled before eating.
In my next post, I’ll provide information on pesticides used to produce meat, dairy and some other favorite foods as well as the Top 15 safe non-organic foods.