Thursday, March 9, 2017

2017's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce': The Good and The Bad and What To Do If You Can't Afford Organic

Every year, The Environmental Working group publishes their 'Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce'.  They publish two lists. 
 One list, the Dirty Dozen, lists the fruits and vegetables that absorb the highest levels of pesticides, and which they highly recommend you buy organic. The second list, 'The Clean 15" lists the 'cleanest' fruits and vegetables; where few, if any, pesticide residues were detected and which you can feel comfortable buying conventional.

What are some of the dangers of exposure to pesticides ( especially during pregnancy and early childhood?)

Let's start by saying that pesticides are designed to kill living things (pests) - by definition, something that kills living things can't be great for you or your kids.

Pesticides have been linked to cancer, acute and chronic nervous system injury and dysfunction of the endocrine, reproductive and immune systems and behavioral problems

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued an important report that said that children have "unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues'] potential toxicity." They cited research linking pesticide exposures in early life and "pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems." It advised its members to urge parents to consult "reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables."

Also bad news? Pesticides persist on fruits and vegetables tested by USDA, even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

The good news?  Eating one or two conventional fruits will not make you sick.   It is the cumulative effect that can be concerning (ie my son can eat grapes breakfast lunch and dinner and then some... everyday day).  Eating one here or there is ok.  

Not everyone can afford organic produce, this is a fact since, unfortunately, organic produce does have a higher price tag than conventional produce.  

Because of how important it is, nutritionally, to consume fruits and vegetables, these annual lists should not discourage consumption of fruits and vegetables if you  cannot afford organics.   It is still better to eat conventional produce versus not eating produce at all.  However,  if you simply cannot afford organic, then liberally choose from the Clean Fifteen list and try to limit consumption of the fruits and vegetables listed in the Dirty Dozen.  

Organic produce can be found at lower prices - sometimes you do have to shop around.  Farmers Markets are a great place to start.   Shop late in the day, as sometimes prices will drop when the market is coming to a close. Also, many local farmers do not pay for the USDA Organic certificate (it is expensive!) but still use organic farming practices.  Get to know your farmers and ask what they use.   Also, join a community supported CSA program.  You will be contributing to the local farm's operating expenses while getting a weekly box of fresh fruits and vegetables.  


This year, two new fruits made their debut on the Dirty Dozen list: Pears and potatoes (they replaced cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from last year's list). On average each pear sample tested, which was thoroughly washed  before testing,  was found to  contain more than 20 pesticides!

Also of (very sad) note: conventionally grown spinach was found to have more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested. In fact, three-fourths of samples tested were contaminated with a neurotoxic bug killer called permethrin. Permethrin is banned from use on food crops in Europe. At high dosis it overwhelms the nervous system and causes tremors and seizures.. Perhaps more alarming however, according to EWG, " studies also find a link between lower-level exposure to permethrin-type insecticides and neurological effects in children. In one study, children with detectable permethrin residues in their urine were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as children with non-detectable levels of the pesticide". Finally, permethrin is also used to kill head lice and is embedded in mosquito-repellent fabrics.

Other chemicals found in conventional spinach include 3 fungicides traditionally used to kill mold and mildew – were found at relatively high concentrations on spinach samples. DDT, a pesticide banned in the US, was found in small quantities in half of the samples.


  1. strawberries
  2. spinach
  3. nectarines 
  4. apples 
  5. peaches 
  6. celery 
  7. grapes 
  8. pears
  9. cherries 
  10. tomatoes 
  11. sweet bell peppers 
  12. potatoes.

  1. sweet corn 
  2. avocados 
  3. pineapples 
  4. cabbage 
  5. onions 
  6. frozen sweet peas 
  7. papayas 
  8. asparagus 
  9. mangoes 
  10. eggplant 
  11. honeydew melon 
  12. kiwis 
  13. cantaloupe 
  14. cauliflower 
  15. grapefruit

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