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.
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:
Sweet peas (frozen)
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.
Kale, collard, and mustard greens
Bell and Hot Peppers
What makes the Clean Fifteen “clean”?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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 have relatively thick and tough skin. The skin of sweet potatoes acts as a natural defense mechanism, minimizing the need for pesticides.
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 are root vegetables that grow underground. Thus, it can provide natural protection against pests and reduce the need for extensive pesticide applications.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.