Avoiding Pesticides in Produce

A Guide To Buying Organic Fruits and Vegetables

Research shows that pesticides are linked to several toxic effects on humans. Learn what types of produce are the most contaminated to help make healthy food choices.

Pesticides are used on crops to kill pests, but they can also be harmful to humans if they are exposed to too many toxins. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims that pesticides can cause skin irritation or affect the nervous, hormone or endocrine systems, depending on exposure. To help consumers decrease their exposure to toxic pesticides, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has made a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, which lists 47 fruits and vegetables.

The Most Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables

According to the Environmental Working Group, if consumers avoid the top 12 contaminated fruits and vegetables on their list, their exposure to harmful pesticides can be reduced by 80%. Their “Dirty Dozen” to avoid include:

peach
apple
sweet bell pepper
celery
nectarine
strawberries
cherries
kale
lettuce
grapes (imported)
carrot
pear

These findings have stayed consistent in two previous EWG studies as well.

The Least Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables

The Environmental Working Group has also found that it is rare for multiple pesticide residues to appear on the produce found at the bottom of their contaminated list. The EWG’s “Clean 15” (from lowest pesticide load) include:

onion
avocado
sweet corn (frozen)
pineapple
mango
asparagus
sweet peas (frozen)
kiwi
cabbage
eggplant
papaya
watermelon
broccoli
tomato
sweet potato

Ranking Produce on the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides

The EWG’s fruit rankings were based on food analysis conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2007. Over 87,000 tests for pesticides were analyzed. Contamination was measured by:

the percent of samples tested which contained detectable pesticides
percent of samples which contained two or more pesticides
the average number of pesticides on the samples
average amount of total pesticides (level in parts per million)
the maximum number of pesticides contained on a single sample
the commodity’s total number of pesticides

The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides gives consumers this information to make informed decisions about the food they eat. It is not meant to assess pesticide risks.

Make Safer Produce Choices

There are several ways consumers can reduce their risk of exposure to pesticides. Buying “Certified Organic” produce tends to be more expensive, but it is the best way to assure that fruits and vegetables are grown without pesticides. Going to local farmer’s markets and asking vendors how their food is grown is a great way to learn about local foods. Buying locally is also a way to eat sustainably and be green. Local food tends to get in consumers’ hands much faster, which means more nutrients are preserved and less energy has been used to transport the food.

Another option to avoid pesticides is to grow an organic garden. This way you know exactly how your food was grown and are guaranteed that there are no pesticides. Growing your own garden also decreases your carbon footprint.

Buy Pesticide Free, Organic Fruits and Vegetables

Pesticides have become a big health concern, especially when used on fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides can help assess the risk of pesticides in produce. Consumers should avoid the top fruits and vegetables on this list, or eat organic produce to reduce risk of exposure. Improve your health and help create a safer environment by making smart, healthy, pesticide free food decisions.

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