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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce


assorted fruits and vegetablesLists help consumers know how to choose produce wisely

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) updated their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce, with its worst findings listed as the “Dirty Dozen” and those least contaminated as the “Clean Fifteen.” This report is intended to help consumers choose wisely when buying and eating produce.


The group looked at the most recent data collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration in 2013. The commonly consumed produce was then ranked based on six factors, including percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides, percent of samples with two or more pesticides, and average amount of all pesticides found (measured in parts per million).


The “Dirty Dozen”

As reported by the EWG, “Each of these foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and showed higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce items.”


  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry Tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Nectarines
  7. Peaches
  8. Potatoes (average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce)
  9. Snap Peas
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers


A few years ago, the EWG added the “Dirty Dozen PLUS” category to bring attention to two types of food that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides: Leafy Greens (Kale and Collard Greens) and Hot Peppers. These do not meet the Dirty Dozen ranking criteria but have been found to be contaminated with insecticides. It is recommended that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.


The “Clean Fifteen”

This list of produce is least likely to hold pesticide residues, according to the EWG.


  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangoes
  10. Onions
  11. Papayas
  12. Pineapples
  13. Sweet Corn
  14. Sweet Peas (frozen)
  15. Sweet potatoes


The EWG suggests purchasing organic options from the “Dirty Dozen” list to reduce the amount of pesticides present. The organic label requires low to no pesticide use.


Other ways to know that produce is lower in pesticides is to grow it at home or purchase it directly from the grower at a farmers market, roadside stand, orchard or farm. This way, the consumer can find out just how the produce was grown and can request reduced use of pesticides or organically grown food for future purchase.


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends making half the food on your plate fruits and vegetables. These lists help consumers know when it is safe to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from the supermarket and when you may want to find cleaner alternatives. You can also purchase unsweetened and low-salt frozen, canned and dried options for more ways to fit in the fruits and vegetables needed for a healthy eating plan.


For more information on the EWG’s findings, go to or contact Janet Hackert at 660-425-6434 or


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Last update: Monday, August 31, 2015