Every year since 2004, the Environmental Working Group — an organization of scientists, researchers and policymakers — have released their "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists to help you find the safest foods in the produce aisle. Informed by the Department of Agriculture's test data, these lists shed light on which fruits and vegetables have the highest and lowest pesticide contamination rates.
The new list for 2022 has been released and includes 12 high-pesticide items and 15 clean items. Let's take a look.
These items have been shown to contain high levels of residual pesticides when grown conventionally. Consider buying the organic options when possible, especially if you consume them frequently. The Dirty Dozen for 2022 includes:
- Kale, collard and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
- Clean Fifteen
As for these foods, little to no traces of pesticides were detected. These fifteen foods are considered relatively safe to consume in their non-organic form. The Clean Fifteen for 2022 includes:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet potatoes
Potential health risks of pesticides
Pesticides are designed to kill pests — but in many cases, they can pose risks to people as well. The potential health risks depend on the type of pesticide. Some pesticides, for instance, can irritate the skin or eyes, while others are considered to be carcinogenic (i.e., cancer causing). Exposure to pesticides like organophosphates and carbamates can even affect the nervous system. With the many ways in which pesticides can cause harm to your health and wellbeing, it's important to source organic, in-season foods.
What does 'organic' actually mean?
The definition of the USDA label varies from food group to food group, so let's focus on organic produce. Produce can be called organic if it's certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances — most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides — applied for three years prior to harvest.
Simple steps to avoid pesticides
- Eat organic
- Rinse produce
- Choose local
- Buy in season
While the health risks of pesticides can be scary, there are simple and enjoyable ways you can avoid them. Buying produce, for instance, from your local farmers' market is a great way to stay healthy and support your community. Additionally, staying up to date on the latest information can ensure you steer clear of any harmful chemicals — and the EWG's Healthy Living app is the easiest way to do so!
This article first appeared in the May 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.