Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyses the most recent USDA data to compile its infamous Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. These list the types of fruits and vegetables that tend to be grown with the most and least pesticides, based on the latest available numbers.
Before we reveal the results, don’t take them as a sign that you should be avoiding any fruit or vegetables altogether – even the ones considered “dirty.” Given research like this study out of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, which found that after seeing pesticide messaging, low-income shoppers were less likely to purchase any fruits or vegetables, it’s important to point out that eating a non-organic strawberry is still by and large a healthier choice than eating, say, a strawberry-flavoured gummy bear.
Filling your plate with a variety of fresh fruits and veggies will always be a cornerstone of good nutrition—and it’s especially essential in the throes of COVID-19.
So, you can think of these lists more as resources to help guide your produce purchasing habits. If you only have a certain amount of money to spend, the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 can steer you toward the produce you should prioritise buying from a health perspective.
With that out of the way, here’s the updated list:
The 2021 Dirty Dozen
To come up with this year’s list, the EWG parsed through USDA data on 46,075 samples of 46 of the most popular fruit and vege. The USDA washed and peeled them as one would do at home before testing them for pesticides.
After washing; “nearly 70 percent of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticide,” the EWG report reads.
To rank each item from “clean” to “dirty,” the EWG assigns it a score based on:
• the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
• the percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides
• the average number of pesticides found on a single sample
• the average amount of pesticides found, measured in parts per million
• the maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
• the total number of pesticides found on the crop
“All categories are weighted equally since they convey different but equally relevant information about pesticide levels on produce,” the report’s methodology section reads.
This means that the list indicates which crops tend to be treated with the highest volume and variety of pesticides. However the list doesn’t go so far as to definitively say which ones are the most risky from a human health perspective, an important thing to consider.
3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
10. Bell and hot peppers
The main difference between this year’s list and last year’s is the addition of bell and hot peppers. “After being tested for the first time since 2012 and 2011, respectively, bell peppers and hot peppers are also included in this year’s list in the 10th spot,” the EWG report reads.
The USDA found 115 types of pesticides on peppers in this most recent testing round, including acephate and chlorpyrifos, which are potentially harmful in high doses.
The 2021 Clean 15
As is the case every year, you’ll notice that most of 2021’s “cleanest” produce has a tough outer peel, husk, or shell that is removed prior to eating, negating some of the pesticide risks:
2. Sweet corn
6. Sweet peas (frozen)
14. Honeydew melon
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