Cherries ranked eighth on the list of the 12 most contaminated foods this year, with peaches, pears, celery and tomatoes completing the list.
But don’t skip these foods, which are full of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants needed to fight chronic disease, experts say.
“If the things you like to eat are on the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list, we encourage you to buy organic versions when you can,” said Alexis Temkin, an EWG toxicologist with expertise in toxic chemicals and pesticides.
“Several peer-reviewed studies and clinical trials have looked at what happens when people switch to an all-organic diet,” he said. “The concentrations and measures of pesticides decrease very quickly.”
Avocados had the lowest pesticide levels among the 46 foods tested, followed by sweet corn, pineapple, onion and papaya.
The USDA doesn’t sample all 46 foods each year, so EWG pulls the results from the most recent testing period. Strawberries, for example, have not been tested by the USDA since 2016, Temkin said,
The tests found the highest level of multiple pesticides, 103, in samples of the heart-healthy trio of kale, collard greens and mustard greens, followed by 101 different pesticides in hot and bell peppers. Overall, “spinach samples had 1.8 times more pesticide residues by weight than any other crop tested,” according to the report.
Being exposed to multiple pesticides, even at low levels, is “supra-additive,” with each pesticide having a greater impact on health than it might on its own, said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, chief of environmental pediatrics at NYU. Langone, who was not involved in the report.
Health risks of pesticides
Chlorpyrifos contains a enzyme “that leads to neurotoxicity and has also been associated with possible neurodevelopmental effects in children,” the EPA said.
A large number of pesticides also affect the endocrine system in developing fetuses, which can interfere with growth, reproduction, and developmental metabolism.
The agriculture industry has long complained about the “Dirty Dozen” release, saying EWG “intentionally” misrepresents USDA data in the report.
“Simply put, EWG’s attempt to misrepresent data to create bias … results in a growing consumer fear of fruits and vegetables,” said Chris Novak, president and CEO of CropLife America, a trade association. national organization representing pesticide manufacturers, formulators and distributors.
“One study found that specifically naming the ‘Dirty Dozen’ resulted in shoppers being less likely to buy ANY vegetables and fruits, not just the ones mentioned on their list,” Novak said via email.
“Actually, the study shows that just over half of the people surveyed said the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list made them more likely to buy fruits and vegetables,” Temkin said. “Only about 1 in 6 said our report would make them less likely to buy products.”
Steps consumers can take
Rinse all products before serving. Do not use soap, detergent or commercial products to wash; water is the best option, experts say.
Choose locations. Buying food that is purchased directly from a local farmer can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure, experts say.
Buy in season. Prices go down when fruits and vegetables are in season and plentiful. That’s a good time to buy organic foods in bulk, then freeze or can them for future use, experts suggest.