The Dirty Dozen: A List of Fruits and Vegetables to Aim for Organic

You may want to think twice about noshing on that celery stick, and perhaps that carrot stick too. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), conventional (non-organic) celery could contain 67 different pesticides. The study released by the EWG, which was based on the analysis of the Dept. of Agriculture and FDA, found astonishing levels of pesticide across at least 12 common fruits and vegetables. Consider the findings by EWG*:

Of the 12 most contaminated foods dubbed "The Dirty Dozen" seven are fruits: peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, cherries and imported grapes
  • More than 96 percent of peaches tested positive for pesticides, followed by nectarines (95.1 percent) and apples (93.6 percent)
  • Nearly 86 percent of peaches contained 2 or more pesticide residues ‚ followed by apples (82.3 percent) and nectarines (80.6 percent)
  • Strawberries and domestic blueberries each had 13 pesticides detected on a single sample. Peaches and apples were second, with 9 pesticides on one sample
  • Peaches had been treated with more pesticides than any other produce, registering combinations of up to 67 different chemicals. Strawberries were next, with an astounding 53 pesticides and apples with 47
Of the vegetables among the Dirty Dozen, celery, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale, collard greens and potatoes are most likely to retain pesticide contamination:
  • Some 95 percent all celery samples tested positive for pesticides, followed by imported cucumbers (84.5 percent) and potatoes (84.2 percent)
  • Nearly 85 percent of celery samples contained multiple pesticides, followed by sweet bell peppers (61.5 percent) and collard greens (53.2 percent)
  • A single celery was contaminated with 13 different chemicals, followed by kale (10), and collard greens, domestic green beans, spinach and lettuce (9)
  • Celery had been treated with as many as 67 pesticides, followed by sweet bell peppers (63) and kale (57)

There is a general consensus that organic is better for your health than conventional. The most common counterargument I hear is that organic food is expensive.  There is no denying that organic food often costs more, however I am a firm believer that if you arm yourself with good information you'll make better decisions that can prove economically beneficial in the long-run.

When it comes to buying produce, I choose organic / pesticide-free whenever possible, and default to conventional if organic is not available - that is until I ran across this list of the highest pesticide retaining produce. The figures were compelling enough for me to rethink my strategy, and to motivate a deeper investigation.

In the past I've purchased conventional potatoes reasoning that because this root vegetable is grown in the ground, it is unlikely to have been exposed to the harmful effects of spraying. This list exposed the fallacy of that argument when I read that potatoes were among the dirty dozen, and conversely onions and leafy green cabbages contained far fewer pesticides. So now when forced between the choice of a conventional potato or nothing, I choose nothing. 

On the other hand, the findings by EWG also provides insight into the "Cleanest" fruits and vegetables, enabling consumers to make smarter decisions and save money. For example, onions, avocados and corn contained the least amount of pesticides of the fruits and vegetables included in the study. The following are deemed "The Clean 15": onions, avocados, corn, pineapples, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, and honeydew melon

It may be the case that after reading this post you will come to a conclusion different from the one I have made. Your diet, your decision, and it should be respected. Nonetheless, I wanted to share with you the full list to help you develop an informed decision on how you shop and eat. Of importance is determining for yourself where to draw the line on this list so that you can decide for yourself and your family the value and economics of the organic/conventional food.

It is my sincere hope that you will share this list with your friends and family to facilitate better decisions related to food; and that in doing so promote a thoughtful and respectful conversation about what we eat. It would be great to hear your thoughts on this list, how you shop for food and what surprises you may have encountered.

This is a particularly long list, but I found it useful to memorize the extremities, that is the best and worst ten on the list.

The Full List: 49 Fruits and Veggies

RankFruit or Veggie
1 (Best)Onions
3Sweet Corn (Frozen)*
5Mango (Subtropical and Tropical)
6Sweet Peas (Frozen)
8Kiwi Fruit (Subtropical and Tropical)
11Cantaloupe (Domestic)
14Sweet Potatoes
15Honeydew Melon
16Plums (Domestic)
18Winter Squash
23Cucumbers (Domestic)
24Cantaloupe (Imported)
25Grapes (Domestic)
27Red Raspberries
28Hot Peppers
29Green Beans (Imported)
30Cucumbers (Imported)
31Summer Squash
32Plums (Imported)
34Green Beans (Domestic)
36Blueberries (Imported)
38Grapes (Imported)
41Kale / Collard Greens
43Sweet Bell Peppers
45Blueberries (Domestic)
49 (Worst)Celery
*Source:   Environmental Working Group's  Shopper's Guide to Pesticides via  Food News


Pavithra Elangovan said...

Beautiful pictures !!!!

kat said...

Part of the reason I like to know where my food is coming from

Belinda @zomppa said...

I'm so glad you wrote this - it's so important to let every one know - and really be aware!

lisa is cooking said...

I didn't know celery was one of the worst. Glad I just bought organic celery! Also, good to know corn is on the clean list because I rarely find organic fresh corn. Great info here!

Cathy said...

Wow, shocking information. I've printed out your list to use as a reference. I buy as much as I can at our local farmers market and hope to avoid some of these harmful pesticides. I knew carrots were bad, but celery...yuk.

Cool Lassi(e) said...

A very useful post! Bookmarking this link!

PJ said...

very useful post. so glad to have this information because though i would like all my fruits and vegetables to be organic, budget rarely permits :) its good to know where the bang for buck is.. for example, celery, never knew its pesticide stats.

Angie's Recipes said...

What about the leeks?
Apples and strawberries are at the very end...:-(
Thanks for sharing such an informative post.

Angie's Recipes said...

The pictures look excellent, esp. the cherry and the mango.

tinyskillet said...

I knew some on the list but not all of them. I am going to use this list for sure! Thanks for the great info!

Sara McCarty said...

What a great post! I'll definitely think twice about (and wash at least twice) any veggies I pick up at non-organic stores. This makes me appreciate Whole Foods so much more!

ann low said...

I actually love to eat celery raw..thanks for your info.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I am also trying to buy organic whenever I can - especially potatoes. I didn't know that sweet potatoes weren't as effected by pesticides so that's good to know. I also didn't know that celery retains so much! Thank you for compiling such a complete list! I'm saving it as a reference.

Unknown said...

My parents have an article with the dirty dozen taped on their fridge. They grow and eat their own berries, but I'm still so tempted to eat the fresh fruit in the dirty dozen! Also, check out this cute carry-card that features the clean and dirty dozen:

Anonymous said...

Great post...thank you for the info! Love the photo's...yum! Enjoy!

Stella said...

Hey Christine, this is a great post! I love that you took the time to go over all this information-it really is helpful. By the way, I notice that a lot of people also try to make the argument that there is no proof showing organic to be better for one's health than conventional.
About two years ago, a major study was done comparing organic foods to their non organic counterparts. Across the board, they found a 25% increase in the vitamin and mineral content of organic foods. I think 25% more vitamin and mineral is a big deal, and that's not even touching on pesticides and gmo's!
Oops, sorry for writing a novel. I'm obviously passionate about this issue (smile).

Joanne said...

This list absolutely depresses me. But the pictures are gorgeous!

Simply Life said...

Great info! I've really be trying to pay more attention to this!

Kim said...

Good info, Christine. I was aware of apples, peaches, berries and grapes. At one time I had heard that if you remove the skin on the peaches and apples the fruit inside was "safe". I'm not sure if that's true or not. Unfortunately my local Kroger doesn't stock very much organic produce, which is pretty depressing. If I want good organic produce then I need to drive 30-40 minutes away, which is hard to do all the time.

I'm surprised about the celery and potatoes. I'm definitely going to search our some organic options and stock up when possible.

I think the government needs to enforce some regulations on all these pesticides. It's very depressing.

Kristen @ Change of Pace said...

As I was looking at the list I see why the good ones are towards the top... It's because they have a tough skin on the outside to keep the actual veg or fruit safe. As you get towards the end you can see that the actual part you eat is completely exposed to the chemicals. YUCK. I love the list though!

Claudia said...

Fascinating - I buy locally when i can and then it is up for grabs come winter. Will definitely rethink my strategy. I wonder how canned tomatoes and frozen vegetables stack up in that area - the same? It makes sense.

Gina said...

This makes me very glad that I can grow most of my own vegetables. But fruits are another story. I just don't want to try growing organic tree fruits. Your post was a good reminder to seek out the best choices for our food.

chow and chatter said...

I wrote a post like this for the organic meat co. we are blessed we can afford it lol

nancy at good food matters said...

So thoughtful of you to put out this list---many of these things I was aware of---but Not the Celery!
I am grateful that I can get most of my produce from local growers who I trust.

Chef E said...

I am part of the Locavore Marshal Riders who hunt down Dirty Dozen eaters and help them learn to change their ways- thank goodness I live in an organic farming area!

Love this post- I heard The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly music playing when I read the title :)

Mari Nuñez said...

Useful Info, thanks for the list.

have a blessed afternoon.

Reeni said...

Thanks for making us aware! I can't help but wonder what kind of effect a thorough washing has...Or are the pesticides so pervasive that their a part of the produce...Scary!

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

Organic is a must whenever is possible! Spectacular photos and hope organic vegs & fruits will be more accessible to all!



Erica said...

Nice post and amazing pictures!!!

Liren said...

This is extremely useful - thank you!!!

Magic of Spice said...

Great article, thank you... I really think these are such important bits of information. Great job:)

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Wow - be aware, right? What we eat REALLY makes a difference to how we feel and it is great to know the sources and potential levels of contamination too, but also to know the pluses on the list! A great summary - thanks

jen cheung said...

holy smokes! I know which site to go to when I really need to search about vegs & fruits now :) hehe! Thanks for the useful information! your awesome :)

Sonia ~ Nasi Lemak Lover said...

This is a very beautiful and informative post!

Trissa said...

Organic is expensive but well worth it - there is no doubt health is wealth! Having said that, I do wish there is a way that organic can become more affordable for the less fortunate.

FOODESSA said...

What a great compilation of info concerning our health. I try to buy as much organic produce as possible. Or, at the very least try to consume the non-organics that are somewhat less affected by pesticides etc.
Fantastic post...especially for those that are not in the habit of consuming in the best interest of their health.
Baby steps;o)
Flavourful wishes, Claudia

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Very informative:D

Asha @ FSK said...

Thanks for this post!!! This is appalling!! Like you, I thought potatoes wouldn't be an issue ! :(( especially since onions aren't. Perhaps potatoes absorb more from the soil, which is drenched with pesticides over time...

sophia said...

I almost always buy conventional...I don't have the money to buy organic all the time. I guess I'll have to avoid those produce that you mentioned. Good thing I don't like potatoes or celery that much anyway!

sophia said...

I almost always buy conventional...I don't have the money to buy organic all the time. I guess I'll have to avoid those produce that you mentioned. Good thing I don't like potatoes or celery that much anyway!

Emily said...

I try to buy organic as much as possible, especially the dirty dozen. Also, some local farms are organic but do not have the funds to become certified.

Jenny said...

Hooray, my computer is working again today! I read this yesterday but couldn't comment. I'm forwarding this link along to a ton of people I know. This is an incredible list. Thank you for sharing it with us.

The Diva on a Diet said...

I've seen (and have been avoiding where possible) the dirty dozen list ... but I've never seen the "Clean 15" before. Thanks so much for that, FLB!

I do buy organic as much as possible and only default to standard when I'm too lazy to go upstairs at my local Fairway! I realize that's no excuse, but there are some days when I'm simply too tired to manage it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christine♥
Thank you so much for this list! Awesome informations.

Lori said...

These lists really are helpful when trying to make food choices without going over budget. I hadn't seen the clean 15 yet, so that was especially interesting to me. Thanks!

Lori Lynn said...

Very interesting post Christine. I use an iphone app as a guide when purchasing seafood, maybe there's an app for this too?

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Christine, there are a lot of surprises on this list. Thanks for the heads up.

OysterCulture said...

EWG is a great resource. I've attended a talk or two and its hard to stay upbeat by some of the information they share. Thanks for sharing some of this really useful info.

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks for sharing that great list. I think I will print that puppy up! Although I try, whole foods only has about 20% organic produce so it's not easy to get only organic... and sometimes you just want something that isn't available that way. As important as losing chemicals is gaining flavor... organic tastes better!

Jessica said...

Since I first saw the dirty dozen, it stuck with me...and this one is going to as well! Although I already really try to eat all organic...

El said...

This is a really great post. Very informative. I'm so relieved after reading this that it's summer and we can go to the local farms. Fresh, local and organic are definitely best.

theUngourmet said...

I have also heard that when farmer's want to pull all of the heavy metals and other contaminants from the soil, they plant a crop of carrots because carrots can absorb all of "this junk" very well. This makes me think that going the organic route with my carrots is a smart move.

Thanks for the great info!

Sutapa said...

Very informative and useful post! Thanks for sharing!

Barbara said...

My daughter called me about this list. I really thank you for posting the's so important. One thinks organic food is safe, but that's not always the case.

La Bella Cooks said...

Wow, I just learned a huge lesson on our fruits and veggies. I will be keeping this bookmarked for reference as I go. Excellent post!

redmenace said...

Wow. Thanks so much for the information. I had no idea! No kale and collards! Gasp. Horrible!

Anh said...

interesting and useful information!

Cristie said...

It makes me sick. Thanks for the info. I love my local farmers market, so happy summer is here.

Deb in Hawaii said...

Great post and important information to share. I am always so cautious any more. I either need to know the farm/farmer if it is local but not organic or buy organic if it is near the dirty dozen list. It is a scary world out there.

Lazaro Cooks said...

Great information and wonderful post.


Sook said...

There's nothing like fresh fruit and vegetables... There's not many farmer's markets around here but I always try to get fresh local fruits and vegetables. So fresh and so nice.

sweetlife said...

great info, I am going to print and carry in my purse so my girls can have a reference wen we go to the grocery store..


Heather S-G said...

What an awesome and informative post, Christine!! This would be PERFECT to link to Two for Tuesdays (not too late...hint, hint)!! ;)

Mimi said...

Very useful information.

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

This is really useful information. I've referred to it in an article I've written about buying organic produce in Dubai. Thank you for posting.