Strawberries, spinach, and kale rank as the "dirtiest" produce on this year's Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group.

By Andrea Beck
Updated March 25, 2020
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There's a very good reason we say to always wash all your produce: Pesticides really like to hang on! The Environmental Working Group (EWG) just released its 2020 Dirty Dozen list, which shows the fruits and veggies most contaminated with residues from pesticides according to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the 47 fresh produce items analyzed, strawberries and spinach ranked as the top two “dirtiest” foods purchased at the grocery store, and kale came in third. (Last year was only kale’s second time making the list in 10 years, but is back again in the same third-place spot.)

Marty Baldwin

EWG's Dirty Dozen

According to the EWG’s report, spinach and kale had an average 1.1 to 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Even more alarming, a single sample of kale had 18 different pesticide residues present. The most common pesticide found on kale samples was Dacthal, also known as DCPA. It was detected on almost 60% of kale samples, which is concerning because the Environmental Protection Agency considers it a possible cancer-causing agent.

Here’s the EWG’s full list of the 2020 Dirty Dozen rankings:

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

Each of the foods included on the list tested positive for a variety of pesticide residues. They also averaged higher concentrations of pesticides than other fruits and veggies. In particular, the EWG reports that over 90% of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and kale tested positive for two or more pesticide residues.

And unfortunately, while you should thoroughly wash all fruits and veggies before eating them, a simple rinse isn't enough to get rid of lingering pesticides. The sample tests from the USDA were taken after all the produce was washed and peeled, meaning pesticide residue can linger after washing. This doesn’t mean you need to start cutting these fruits and veggies out of your diet completely, but you might want to be a little more careful about what you're buying. After all, the EWG recognizes eating strawberries are better than processed snacks. The EWG recommends buying organic produce when you can, which is grown using fewer pesticides. Washing helps remove some of the residues from non-organic produce, but your best bet for avoiding pesticides is to buy organic fruits and veggies.

EWG's Additional 2020 Research on Raisins

While the EWG's Dirty Dozen usually only analyzes samples of fresh crops, in 2020 the organization added raisins to the investigation since the dried fruit went through new USDA testing last year. Residues of at least two pesticides appeared on 99% of non-organic raisins tested! That means if raisins were considered a fresh product, it would surpass all the others on the list.

EWG's Clean Fifteen

Alongside the Dirty Dozen, the EWG also provides its Clean Fifteen list each year. The list shows which fruits and veggies had the lowest concentrations of pesticide residues. This year, avocados and sweet corn took the top two spots on the clean list, with less than 1% of samples showing any detectable pesticide residues. More than 70% of the samples on the Clean Fifteen list showed no pesticide residues at all.

Here’s the full list of 2020’s Clean Fifteen:

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

It's important to note both the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists only rank fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticide residues found. Neither includes bacteria present (which can really add up when shoppers are handling produce at the grocery store). So no matter which list your favorite fruit or veggie is on, go ahead and give it a good wash before eating.

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