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The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 of Produce


An organization called the Environmental Working Group (comprised of scientists, researchers and policymakers), developed a list of the certain types of organic produce that can reduce the amount of toxins you consume on a daily basis (“The Clean 15”), and one for common produce items that have the highest amounts of pesticides and other harmful chemicals (“The Dirty Dozen”).

The lists – compiled using data from the United States Department of Agriculture – were gathered to help consumers know when they should buy organic and when it isn’t necessary.

“The Dirty Dozen”
The fruits and vegetables on “The Dirty Dozen” list, when conventionally grown, tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67. For produce on the “dirty” list, you should definitely go organic. “The Dirty Dozen” list includes:

  • apples
  • celery
  • cherry tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • grapes
  • imported snap peas
  • nectarines
  • peaches
  • potatoes
  • spinach, kale and collard greens
  • strawberries
  • sweet bell peppers

Buying organic produce can be very expensive if you don’t know what’s in season. To learn more about the best time to buy certain fruits and vegetables, check out the CUESA’s Seasonality Chart.

“The Clean 15”
All the produce on “The Clean 15” displayed little to no traces of pesticides, and is safe to consume in non-organic form. This list includes:

  • asparagus
  • avocados
  • cabbage
  • cantaloupe
  • cauliflower
  • eggplant
  • grapefruit
  • kiwi
  • fruit
  • mangoes
  • onions
  • papayas
  • pineapples
  • sweet corn
  • sweet peas (frozen)
  • sweet potatoes

Why are some types of produce more prone to sucking up pesticides than others? According to Richard Wiles, senior vice president of policy for the EWG, foods like pineapple or sweet corn can have a protection defense because of the outer layer of skin, which is not the case for strawberries and other berries, for example.

So in a world where we have to worry about ingesting harmful chemicals along with our “healthy” fruits and vegetables, it’s good to know that there are resources available to help us make smart and healthy produce purchases.

This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter and the Winter 2015 issue of Chinese Health Initiative Wellness eNewsletter. Learn more about the Chinese Health Initiative.