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The Clean Fifteen: Reduce the Pesticides

The “Clean Fifteen” is a term used by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It refers to a list of fruits and vegetables that according to the annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, tend to have lower pesticide residues when conventionally grown.

These crops have lower overall pesticide contamination compared to others. Therefore, if an organic option is not available, they are safer to consume than any other fruit and vegetable, or vegetable listed on the “Dirty Dozen” list.

The Clean Fifteen is a list of fruits and vegetables with the lowest found pesticide residues.

EWG’s 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

The Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration provides the EWG with research data. An analysis of the latest fruits and vegetables is then used to make a list. Soon after, the EWG will release the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce”, based on the given analysis. The 2023 guide includes data from 46,569 samples tested out of 46 fruits and vegetable samples.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will peel, scrub, and wash produce samples before testing. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only removes excess dirt before testing its samples. Even after taking these cleaning measures, the tests still found traces of 251 different pesticides.

The Clean Fifteen vs. The Dirty Dozen

The Clean Fifteen 2023 List:

“The Clean 15” list is to provide consumers with information about which fruits and vegetables typically have lower detectable pesticide residues. Therefore, allowing them to make informed decisions when purchasing fresh produce that is commercially grown or whether they should rather buy organic varieties.

The Clean Fifteen List:

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Onions

  5. Papaya

  6. Sweet peas (frozen)

  7. Asparagus

  8. Honeydew melon

  9. Kiwi

  10. Cabbage

  11. Mushrooms

  12. Mangoes

  13. Sweet potatoes

  14. Watermelon

  15. Carrots

    Avocados are found to have the lowest pesticide residual according to the EWG 2023 Studies.

The Dirty Dozen 2023 List:

The Dirty Dozen is the 12 fruit and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue. The list is to inform individuals of the potential risks involved when purchasing the products on the Dirty Dozen list. They may contain potentially harmful pesticides or very toxic chemicals. Moreover, the list provides relevant information on whether buying the organic option is necessary or not.

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens

  4. Peaches

  5. Pears

  6. Nectarines

  7. Apples

  8. Grapes

  9. Bell and Hot Peppers

  10. Cherries

  11. Blueberries

  12. Green Beans

What makes the Clean Fifteen “clean”?

Avocados

The thick and rough skin of avocados provides a natural barrier. It can help protect the edible flesh against pesticide residues and penetration. Additionally, avocados are often grown using fewer pesticides due to their natural resistance to pests and diseases.

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn has a thick outer husk that helps shield the kernels from pests and reduces the need for pesticides

Pineapple

Pineapple plants have a natural defense mechanism against pests. Therefore, reducing the need for extensive pesticide use. Additionally, the thick and rough outer skin of pineapples provides a protective barrier that helps minimize pesticide penetration.

Onions

The layered structure and protective skin of onions provide a natural defense against pests. Thus, reducing the need for extensive pesticide applications. As a result, onions often have minimal pesticide residue.

Papayas

Papaya plants are naturally resistant to pests, which often results in limited pesticide use. Additionally, the outer skin of the papaya provides a protective layer that can help minimize pesticide penetration into the fruit.

Frozen Sweet Peas

Sweet peas, particularly frozen sweet peas, typically have low pesticide residue levels. Sweet peas are often grown in conditions where they need fewer pesticides. Moreover, the outer pod of sweet peas provides a natural protective barrier that helps reduce pesticide exposure.

Asparagus

Asparagus is typically harvested when it is still young and tender before it has a chance to accumulate significant pesticide residues. The relatively short harvest window reduces the need for prolonged pesticide use.

Honeydew Melon

The thick and smooth rind of honeydew melons acts as a protective barrier against pests and reduces the chances of pesticide penetration into the fruit. Honeydew melon’s natural defense mechanism helps minimize the need for extensive pesticide use.

Kiwi

Kiwi fruit produces compounds that act as natural repellents or deterrents. Thus, reducing the need for extensive pesticide applications. The fruit also has a fuzzy outer skin that provides a protective barrier against pests and minimizes pesticide penetration.

Cabbage

Cabbage has thick and sturdy outer leaves that provide a natural barrier against pests. These outer leaves act as a protective layer, shielding the inner parts of the cabbage from direct contact with pesticides and harmful chemicals.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms have a relatively short growth cycle. They are often harvested before pests become a significant issue. This shorter cycle reduces the need for prolonged pesticide treatments.

Mangoes

Mango trees have natural defense mechanisms against pests and diseases. They produce certain compounds and enzymes that act as natural repellents or deterrents. Thus, reducing the need for extensive and toxic pesticide applications.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have relatively thick and tough skin. The skin of sweet potatoes acts as a natural defense mechanism, minimizing the need for pesticides.

Watermelon

Watermelons have a thick outer rind or skin. The outer rind provides protection, limiting the contact of pesticides with the flesh of the fruit and vegetable itself.

Carrots

Carrots are root vegetables that grow underground. Thus, it can provide natural protection against pests and reduce the need for extensive pesticide applications.

Carrots are on the Clean Fifteen list as they grow underground and are exposed to less chemicals.

Health problems associated with High Pesticide Levels

Exposure to pesticide residues can potentially pose health risks. However, the severity and specific health problems can vary depending on factors such as the type and amount of pesticide, duration, and frequency of exposure, and individual susceptibility. There are a number of different side effects and health problems associated with consuming food sources with a high pesticide residue.

Here are a few health problems associated with pesticide contamination:

Acute Toxicity

Certain pesticides can cause acute poisoning symptoms when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, respiratory difficulties, and in severe cases, seizures or even death.

Chronic Health Effects

Long-term exposure to low levels of pesticide residues may lead to chronic health problems. Studies suggest that chronic pesticide exposure may increase the risk of certain cancers, neurological disorders (such as Parkinson’s disease), developmental issues in children, hormonal disruptions, reproductive disorders, and respiratory problems.

Here are a few health effects in more detail:

Fertility Issues

Some pesticides have led to fertility problems in both males and females. They may disrupt hormone regulation, affect sperm quality and count, interfere with ovulation, or disrupt the normal functioning of reproductive organs.

Pregnancy Complications

Pesticide exposure during pregnancy can increase the risk of complications such as miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental abnormalities in infants. Certain pesticides may increase the risk of birth defects and neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

Hormonal Disruption

Pesticides can disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormone production and function. This disruption can lead to imbalances in reproductive hormones. This can affect menstrual cycles, sperm production, and overall reproductive health.

Reproductive Cancers

Prolonged exposure to certain pesticides may increase the risk of reproductive cancers, including ovarian, uterine, and testicular cancers. These pesticides may have carcinogenic properties or promote tumor growth.

Disruption of Reproductive Development

Early-life exposure to certain pesticides may alter reproductive development. They may interfere with the maturity of reproductive organs and systems. Thus, leading to long-term reproductive health issues.

Allergic Reactions

Pesticides can trigger allergic reactions in some individuals. This can lead to symptoms such as skin rashes, itching, swelling, respiratory distress, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis.

Endocrine Disruption

Some pesticides can disrupt the endocrine system. This affects hormone production and regulation in the body. Thus, potentially leads to various health issues, including reproductive problems, thyroid dysfunction, and developmental abnormalities.

Other External Problems Caused by High Pesticide Levels

Environmental Concerns

Excessive pesticide use can lead to environmental contamination. This includes soil and water pollution, harm to beneficial organisms, and disruption of ecosystems. High pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables can contribute to these environmental concerns.

Accumulation in the Body

Pesticide residues can accumulate in the human body over time. This accumulation may increase the risk of pesticide exposure-related health issues in the long term.

Development of Pesticide Resistance

Over-reliance on pesticides can lead to the development of pesticide-resistant pests, requiring even stronger or more toxic pesticides for effective control. This can result in a vicious cycle of increased pesticide use and potential harm to both human health and the environment.

What are the Methods Organizations use to Test “The Clean Fifteen” Pesticide Residues?

Testing for pesticides involves various methods and techniques depending on the purpose and context of the testing.

Here are some common methods used to test for pesticides:

Residue Analysis

This involves analyzing the presence and concentration of pesticide residues in food, water, soil, or other environmental samples. Techniques such as gas chromatography (GC), liquid chromatography (LC), and mass spectrometry (MS) are commonly used for residue analysis.

Bioassays

Bioassays involve testing the biological effects of pesticides on living organisms. These tests can assess acute toxicity, chronic toxicity, reproductive effects, and other adverse effects of pesticides. Bioassays can provide insights into the potential risks and impacts of pesticide exposure.

Field Monitoring

Field monitoring involves collecting samples directly from agricultural fields or other relevant environments. These samples can include crops, soil, water, or air. Field monitoring provides real-world data on pesticide use and residue levels in the environment.

Laboratory Studies

Laboratory studies involve controlled experiments. This is to investigate the effects of pesticides on different organisms or systems. These studies test toxicity, chronic effects, mechanism of action, and potential long-term impacts of pesticides.

Regulatory Testing

Regulatory agencies often require specific testing protocols to evaluate the safety and compliance of pesticides. These protocols can involve various tests to assess pesticide efficacy, environmental fate, toxicological profiles, and potential impacts on human health or the environment.

Consumer Testing

Consumer advocacy groups or organizations may conduct independent testing of food or other consumer products to assess pesticide residues. These tests aim to inform consumers about the potential presence of pesticides found in commercially available products.

Why should you consider buying from the “Clean Fifteen” list?

Buying more fruits and vegetables from the Clean Fifteen list can be a beneficial choice for several reasons:

Reduced Pesticide Exposure

The Clean Fifteen list identifies fruits and vegetables that tend to have lower levels of pesticide residue compared to other produce items. By choosing fruits and vegetables from this list, you can potentially reduce your exposure to pesticide residues.

Cost-effectiveness

Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables on the Clean Fifteen list often have lower pesticide residues due to farming practices and natural resistance to pests. This can make them more affordable compared to organic alternatives, allowing you to prioritize your health while considering budget constraints.

Nutritional Benefits

Fruits and vegetables, regardless of their position on the Clean Fifteen list, are essential components of a healthy diet. They provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that contribute to overall well-being. Choosing from the Clean Fifteen list ensures you still consume a variety of fruits and vegetables while minimizing potential pesticide exposure.

Environmental Considerations

Some conventional farming practices use pesticides that may have negative impacts on the environment, such as water and soil contamination or harm to non-target organisms. By choosing produce from the Clean Fifteen list, which tends to have lower pesticide residues, you can support farming methods that may have reduced environmental impact.

Availability and Accessibility

The fruits and vegetables on the Clean Fifteen list are often widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores. They are commonly produced in larger quantities and have fewer pest-related challenges, making them more accessible to consumers.

The fruits and vegetables on the Clean Fifteen list are often widely available in supermarkets.

Key Note Takeaways

There are many health problems associated with consuming fruits and vegetables with pesticide exposure. Therefore, it is highly recommended to avoid genetically modified produce or produce that is conventionally grown on the “Dirty Dozen” list. It is advisable to rather choose the organic varieties in these cases.

Therefore, by adding more varieties of fruits and vegetables found on the Clean Fifteen list, you will be avoiding the health problems associated with high pesticide levels. This is due to the lower contamination levels in organic produce found on the Clean Fifteen list.

8 thoughts on “The Clean Fifteen: Reduce the Pesticides”

  1. This is a BIG HELP. It is a relief to know one can buy some of these without worrying so much about pesticides….especially pineapples and avocados. Often the Bio versions of some of these foods are smaller, and don’t look as fresh. And cost a lot more.

  2. You don’t talk about “CORN”. I would NEVER buy corn unless it is Organic.
    I wouldn’t trust regular corn to NOT be GMO corn.
    NO WAY. Again……why didn’t you talk about corn?
    Thanks for the lists.
    Anna

    1. Hi Anna, It’s important to note that the absence of a specific food item from the “Dirty Dozen” list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s free of pesticide residues. It simply means that, based on the EWG’s criteria, other fruits and vegetables are found to have higher levels of pesticide residues and are thus prioritized on the list.

      Consumers concerned about pesticide residues can choose to buy organic corn, which is grown with fewer synthetic pesticides and without synthetic fertilizers. Washing and peeling non-organic corn can also help reduce potential pesticide exposure.

  3. I’m wondering if plants uptake a certain amount of the pesticides due to them getting into the soil, especially after repeated spraying from crop to crop.

    1. Yes, plants can uptake pesticides when they are applied to the soil or the surrounding environment. This is especially true when pesticides are used repeatedly, as they can accumulate in the soil. When pesticides are applied to crops, gardens, or other agricultural areas, some of the chemical residues may remain in the soil even after the intended target (e.g., pests or weeds) has been treated.

  4. Dear Lorie OTTO,
    Thank you for the colorful report you prepared and the detailed information you included that we should already know, but often forget to remember…It is a great list. I thank you for taking the time to create this document on fruits and vegetables. I will add it to my keep sake recipe file! It is a subject to share with people I know. Some may be encouraged to change their shopping pattern, grow a garden and work at better health. That in itself is a blessing!
    Congratulations and thank you, I am very grateful!
    D.B. St Jean Marion

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