Which Fruits & Vegetables Have the Most Pesticides?

If you think your fruits and veggies are safe to eat, think again. Of course, you wash them, but that may not be enough. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently tested more than 35,000 samples by the USDA and FDA. The USDA even washed and peeled the produce much as consumers do at home. While some chemicals are considered relatively safe for human consumption, others may be linked to hormone disruption, diseases, neurological problems, and reproductive or developmental damage.

Don’t Stop Eating Your Fruits and Veggies

Reading this shouldn’t discourage you from eating your daily fruits and vegetables, be they conventional or organic, fresh or frozen. But do try to shy away from conventionally grown strawberries, spinach, or kale. According to the EWG, these foods may be contaminated with synthetic pesticide residue. More than half of the fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains such contaminants. That said, the level of pesticide residue varies by crop. So which fruits and veggies are most contaminated? EWG’s recently released its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen,” a list of the most and least pesticide-ridden foods. The EWG analyzed tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of 47 different conventionally grown produce. Here’s what they found:

The Dirty Dozen:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

The Clean Fifteen:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew Melon
  15. Kiwi

Raisins, Spinach and Kale

Some produce raised a few eyebrows after samples were tested. The EWG found that non-organic raisins had residues of at least two pesticides. Strawberries, nectarines, apples, and cherries also showed residues of two or more pesticides on most samples. In fact, strawberries were among the most contaminated fruit. Likewise, Kale made the top 10. Pesticide residues on this leafy green had traces of DCPA, which the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen. Conventionally grown leafy greens appear to contain more pesticides than other types of produce. Kale and spinach samples both had 1.1 to 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than other tested crops.

Look to Safer Produce

So what conventionally grown produce is safest to purchase? According to the EWG, less than 2 percent of sampled avocados showed any detectable pesticides. Other produce in the Clean Fifteen tested positive for four or fewer pesticides. In fact, most of the Clean Fifteen showed no pesticide residue. While conventionally grown fruits and veggies are in the spotlight for contaminants, their organically grown counterparts may also contain pesticide residues. That said, some critics suggest that the levels of pesticide residue found on the food in their list–while higher than other fruits and vegetables–generally fall well below EPA tolerance levels.

What to Eat? Go Organic

Start by choosing only organically grown fruits and veggies. The term “organic” refers to how farmers grow and process fruits and vegetables. Organic farms typically don’t use synthetic and sewage sludge fertilizers. They also avoid using many synthetic pesticides for pest control as well as plant waste left on fields (green manure). Be vigilant. Read the labels. The USDA’s guidelines include:

  • 100 Percent Organic. This description is used on certified organic fruits, vegetables. If a multi-ingredient food is labeled organic, at least 95 percent of the ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water. The nonorganic items must be from a USDA list of approved additional ingredients. These also may have a USDA seal.
  • Made with Organic. If a multi-ingredient product has at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients, it may have a “made with organic” ingredients label. The ingredient list must identify what ingredients are organic. These products may not carry a USDA seal.
  • Organic Ingredients. If less than 70 percent of a multi-ingredient product is certified organic, it may not be labeled as organic or carry a USDA seal. The ingredient list can indicate which ingredients are organic.

Say No to Free Samples

Refuse to sample unwashed produce at the store or farmer’s market. These fruits and vegetables are picked and packed in the field and may not even be rinsed. They could easily be contaminated with bacteria and pesticide residues. Produce often moves an average of 1,500 miles, passing through many hands before it’s displayed on stands. So try to buy produce grown closer to home to reduce the risk for contamination.

Thoroughly Wash Fruits and Veggies

Many fruits and vegetables are coated in wax to help them appear fresh during extended periods of transit. So be sure to wash off pesticides, wax, and dirt. That means scrubbing or soaking them until they are clean. And, yes, this includes organic produce.



Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of film reviews and celebrity interviews for a wide variety of online and print outlets. He has covered red carpet premieres and Comic-Con events for major films and independent releases.