This list of foods is called the “Dirty Dozen” and is updated each year at EWG’s Shopper’s Guide.
1. Apples: This healthy powerfood has to look perfect, or many consumers get suspicious. New to the top toxic spot, apples are susceptible to more than 30 insects and at least 10 diseases, so conventional apples are sprayed many times during the growing season. Fungicides and other chemicals are also added after picking to prevent tiny blemishes that can accumulate during storage of up to 9 months. (Read the possible Apple Benefits.)
2. Celery: “Nobody likes to find a caterpillar-damaged stalk in their celery bunch,” says Stuart Reitz, PhD, a research entomologist with the USDA. There are 64 pesticide residues found on celery.
3. Sweet Bell Peppers: The creases in their crowns hold pesticides, so they soak in. They also have less insect-deterring compounds in them.
4. Peaches: Farmers may spray peaches every week or two from bloom to harvest—and peach fuzz can trap pesticides says peach breeder John R. Clark, PhD, a horticulturalist at the University of Arkansas, who peels every one of the thousands of peaches he eats each year. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 62 pesticide residues.
5. Strawberries: They are delicate and prone to disease, including fungal attacks that can turn them to mush during transit and storage. Millions of pounds of methyl bromide are used every year by California strawberry growers. It damages the ozone layer, so it is banned in many parts of the world. “This chemical has an uncanny ability to damage DNA, which creates a host of problems, ranging from reproductive effects to cancer and neurological damage,” explains Gina Solomon, MD, MPH, chief scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council. “Since the chemical is also highly volatile, it is easy for it to drift and affect workers and nearby communities.”
6. Nectarines: They are closely related to peaches, so they have the same weakness and “need” the same chemical support.
7. Grapes: To prevent that easily-occurring rot, farmers spray aggressively with fungicides. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 34 pesticide residues.
8. Spinach: Those green leaves are loved by grasshoppers and other insects, and the plants themselves suck up chemicals from the soil. For example, spinach has been shown to contain DDT from the soil, even though DDT was banned over 10 years ago. (You don’t just want to pass on spinach, though. It’s too healthy, as you can read here: Spinach Health Benefits)
9. Lettuce: Like spinach, there are large surface areas to protect. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 51 pesticide residues.
10. Cucumbers: Without spraying, they can be very delicate. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 35 pesticide residues.
11. Blueberries: The berries are targets for insects such as blueberry maggots and bagworms. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 52 pesticide residues.
12. Potatoes: They are sprayed 5 or more times throughout the growing season to protect against various pests. After harvesting, another round of spraying occurs in the packing shed to ward off mold.
Extra foods on the “dangerous” list:
13. Kale/collard greens: Like spinach and lettuce, they have large surface areas that absorb sprays.
14. Cherries: If just one of the western cherry maggots is found in a shipment, the entire load of fruit must be dumped, so growers spray out of fear of losing their crops.
Check out more about the USDA Pesticide Data Program here.
If you are familiar with Star Wars, this video, Grocery Store Wars, is a great spoof with a strong message supporting organic farming. A movie from not so long ago, in a supermarket not so far away… Join the adventures of Cuke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Cannoli, Chewbroccoli and the rest of the Organic Rebels fighting against Darth Tader and the Dark Side of the Farm.