The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15: What to Buy Organic

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its list of produce containing the highest and least amounts of pesticides. The list changes frequently, based on crop conditions in a given year, but Annie B. Kay, an integrative dietitian and Kripalu’s Lead Nutritionist, says certain foods (such as apples, strawberries, and spinach) are longtime occupants of the list.

Nutritionist and Kripalu presenter John Bagnulo highly recommends buying organic when it comes to the items on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. “It’s an unnecessary risk, especially for children, to consume fruits and vegetables with those chemical loads, ” he says.

The Dirty Dozen

These 12 fruits and vegetables contain the highest levels of pesticide residue, herbicides, and fungicides. Here’s the 2019 list in the order of toxicity:

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

John is most concerned about fruits like peaches, apples, and strawberries, because of the volume people eat, especially kids. Americans also consume large quantities of potatoes—as french fries, baked potatoes, and potato chips. According to the EWG, the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.

In addition to these 12 foods, the EWG has added hot red peppers, kale, and collard greens to its Dirty Dozen Plus list. If you can’t buy these items certified organic, or if organic is too expensive, John suggests avoiding them altogether and choosing alternatives from EWG’s Clean 15 list.

The Clean 15

Buy and eat these to your heart’s content.

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons

EWG notes that a small amount of sweet corn and papaya sold in the United States is produced from genetically engineered (GE) seed stock. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid GE produce. Generally, organic food is your best bet for avoiding genetically modified produce, says Annie.