Farmers use pesticides on their crops to protect them from being eaten by insects and other pests.
Unfortunately, these pesticides can end up on our fruits and vegetables, exposing us to potentially harmful chemicals.
That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) research, test, and monitor pesticide levels in foods.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that uses the data and test results from these government agencies to create the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” lists.
The Dirty Dozen
The EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list includes the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue levels.
These are the types of produce that you should buy organic whenever possible. The “USDA Organic” label means that the product has met higher safety standards to ensure that it is free of potentially harmful chemicals.
The 2022 “Dirty Dozen” list includes:
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
Even when these foods are washed and prepped to eat, they still tend to have high pesticide levels (if you don’t purchase the organic versions).
The Clean Fifteen
On the other hand, the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” list includes the 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residue levels.
These are the types of produce you don’t need to worry as much about buying organic, although it’s still an option if you prefer.
The 2022 “Clean Fifteen” list includes:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
You can feel confident that these fruits and vegetables are safe to eat, even if you don’t purchase the organic versions.
Is “Organic” Really Better?
Pesticides are generally designed to be toxic to the nervous system of insects. But in some ways, our human nervous systems are not that different from insects and can be similarly affected by these chemicals.
We are exposed to relatively smaller amounts (since we are much larger than insects). However, the effects can still be harmful, especially when exposed to multiple pesticides. They can also be dangerous to infants and growing children, whose nervous systems are still developing.
You can reduce your exposure to these harmful chemicals by choosing organic produce. However, it needs to be clarified how much of a difference this makes.
People who eat higher amounts of organic produce tend to be healthier overall, but it’s unclear if this is because they are eating organic produce or if other factors are at play. People who eat organic produce also tend to be more health conscious in general and make other healthy choices as well.
Still, if you are concerned about pesticide exposure, buying organic produce is a good way to reduce your risk, especially for the foods in the “Dirty Dozen” list.