The 2017 Dirty Dozen: Strawberries, Spinach and More

Strawberries once again top the Dirty Dozen™ list, with spinach jumping to second place in the EWG’s annual ranking of produce with high pesticide residues.

EWG’s analysis of tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides. USDA researchers found a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples they analyzed.

And yes, the pesticide residues remained on fruits and vegetables even after they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

The 2017 Dirty Dozen list, in addition to strawberries and spinach, includes nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.

Each of these foods tested positive for many different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce. Pears and potatoes were new additions to the Dirty Dozen, displacing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from last year’s list.

Other key findings include:

  • Nearly all samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.
  • The most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides.
  • Spinach samples had an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Three-fourths of spinach samples had residues of a neurotoxic pesticide banned in Europe for use on food crops – it’s part of a class of pesticides that recent studies link to behavioral disorders in young children.

“If you don’t want to feed your family food contaminated with pesticides, the EWG Shopper’s Guide helps you make smart choices, whether you’re buying conventional or organic produce,” said Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst. “Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they’re grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic. If you can’t buy organic, the Shopper’s Guide will steer you to conventionally grown produce that is the lowest in pesticides.”

EWG (The Environmental Working Group) is a nonprofit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C.  The EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated every year since 2004, ranks pesticide contamination of 48 popular fruits and vegetables. The guide is based on results of more than 35,200 samples of produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration

EWG’s very first report in 1993, Pesticides in Children’s Foods, played a pivotal role in Congress passing the groundbreaking Food Quality Protection Act two years later. The law gave the Environmental Protection Agency the regulatory authority to ensure the pesticides used in our food system are not harming our most vulnerable populations – infants and children. Subsequent EWG research found carcinogenic pesticides in baby food and weed killers in Midwestern tap water.

EWG notes that “conventional agriculture continues to use large quantities of toxic pesticides. As a result, USDA researchers detect pesticide residues on much of the fruits and vegetables they test. This is why EWG updates our Shopper’s Guide each year.”

“As long as these chemicals remain in use and turn up on produce, we’ll keep publishing the Shopper’s Guide, and investigating pesticides and other chemicals that can harm health, especially the health of children.”

So what should you eat? EWG suggests that consumers consider purchasing organic, when possible, for the produce that appears on the Dirty Dozen List. But EWG also stresses that the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables.

Consumers can also confidently choose foods from EWG’s Clean Fifteen™ list of produce least likely to contain pesticide residues includes sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods and tests found low total concentrations of pesticide residues on them.

For optimal benefits, including dental health, nutritionists recommend that adults and children consume at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that this advice is routinely ignored: less than a third of adults meet the current guidelines.

Healthy food choices, combined with good oral hygiene – including regular dental checkups and professional cleanings, will help you keep your teeth, gums, and body healthy. If you’ve been skipping visits to the dentist due to budget concerns, consider joining a Dental Savings Plan to save 10%-60% on preventive and restorative dental treatments.

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