These 12 Foods Are Most Likely to Carry Pesticide Residue

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

There's a good reason we say to wash all your produce: Pesticides like to hang on! The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its 2022 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 and the Food and Drug Administration. The research revealed that 70% of non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides. Of the 46 fresh produce items analyzed, strawberries and spinach ranked as the top two "dirtiest" foods purchased at the grocery store, and kale (along with mustard and collard greens) came in third.

Pile of strawberries
Marty Baldwin

EWG's Dirty Dozen

According to the EWG's report, a single sample of kale, collard greens, and mustard greens had up to 103 different pesticides. Spinach samples had 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop tested. And a whopping 101 pesticides in total were detected on hot peppers and bell peppers. There is debate by groups such as the Alliance for Food and Farming about the methodology used by EWG and no matter the food, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is always a healthy choice. Only one in 10 Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in a day, so don't let this list dissuade your consumption. Rather, use it to inform when to buy organic (if possible), to thoroughly wash produce, to grow your own, and just to make a more informed decision.

Here's the EWG's full list of the 2022 Dirty Dozen rankings:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard greens, and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Bell peppers and hot peppers
  8. Cherries
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

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 while you should thoroughly wash all fruits and veggies before eating them, a simple rinse may not get rid of lingering pesticides. However, this doesn't mean you should cut these fruits and veggies out of your diet. 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.

EWG's Additional 2022 Research on Citrus

In addition to the annual lists of fresh produce, EWG highlighted its detection of harmful fungicides on citrus fruits tested by the USDA as well as its own team of scientists. According to the study, two hormone-disrupting (and potentially cancer-causing) fungicides, imazalil and thiabendazole, were detected on 90% of non-organic samples of grapefruit, lemons, mandarins, and oranges. Imazalil is also classified as a likely carcinogen, and the citrus contained about 20 times the amount EWG scientists recommend as a limit.

Overhead view avocados
Andy Lyons

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 2% 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 2022's Clean Fifteen:

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

It's also important to note both the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists only rank fruits and vegetables based on the number 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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Sources
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  1. Temkin, Alexis et al. "Tests Find Hormone-Disrupting Fungicides on Most Citrus Fruit Samples." Environmental Working Group. 2021.

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