The Dirty Dozen List Identifies 12 Foods Likely to Carry Pesticide Residue

Strawberries and spinach rank as the “dirtiest” produce on the 2023 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), a non-profit organization, has released its 2023 Dirty Dozen list, which identifies the fruits and veggies most contaminated with residues from pesticides, according to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration analyzed by EWG and compiled in the organization’s annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

The research revealed that 75% 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 available for purchase, and kale (along with mustard and collard greens) came in third.

bowl of vegetables and fruits

BHG / Andrea Araiza

EWG’s Dirty Dozen

According to the EWG report, kale, collard greens, and mustard greens had up to 103 different pesticides on them, the most of any crop, and a whopping 101 pesticides were detected on hot peppers and bell peppers. Blueberries and green beans are new additions to the Dirty Dozen list in 2023, coming in at 11th and 12th on the list, respectively. Nearly 80% of blueberry samples contained two or more pesticides, EWG reports, and more than 70% of green beans had at least two pesticides on them, with a combined 84 different pesticides found on the entire crop.

apples in grocery supermarket

BHG / Andrea Araiza

The 2023 Dirty Dozen List

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

Each of the foods included on the list tested positive for pesticide residues, with the highest amounts of pesticides of the 46 fruits and vegetables tested.

How to Use the Dirty Dozen List

You shouldn’t cut the fruits and veggies on the Dirty Dozen list out of your diet completely. The EWG recommends buying organic produce when you can, which is grown using fewer pesticides.

There is also debate by groups such as the Alliance for Food and Farming about the methodology used by EWG, and experts point out that, 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) and to help you make a more informed decision at the grocery store.

Whatever produce you buy, you should thoroughly wash all fruits and veggies before eating them—even if they’re organic—as a simple rinse may not get rid of lingering pesticides. Washing helps remove some of the residues from non-organic produce. To further reduce your consumption of the harmful chemicals found on some of these foods, you can also learn to grow your own fruits and veggies, if you want to be especially careful.

EWG’s Clean Fifteen

Alongside the Dirty Dozen, EWG also provides a Clean Fifteen list each year. The list shows which fruits and veggies had the lowest amount of pesticide residues. This year, avocados and sweet corn took the top two spots on the Clean Fifteen list, with less than 2% of samples showing any detectable pesticide residues. Almost 65% of the samples of produce on the Clean Fifteen list showed no detectable pesticide residue at all.

onions in grocery store supermarket

BHG / Andrea Araiza

The 2023 Clean Fifteen List

  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. Sweet potatoes
  14. Watermelon
  15. Carrots

It’s also important to note that 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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