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The Problem with an Apple a Day: EWG's 2012 "Dirty Dozen" List

Published on: December 30, 2013

By Jen Betterley and Elisa Murray

0511_apple_regTurns out, an apple a day may in fact, do the opposite of keeping the doctor away (depending on your view of the health concerns of pesticides).

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its 2012 Dirty Dozen list for fruits and veggies that contain the most pesticides. There are several repeat offenders from the fast few years, and apples have maintained their dubious distinction of being first at the top of the pesticide-laden food chain, followed by celery, sweet peppers, peaches and strawberries. (You can download a handy pdf of the whole list here.)

EWG compiles the list by analyzing annual pesticide residue tests conducted by the USDA and federal Food and Drug Administration between. Some of the grim stats turned up their research include:

- Some 98 percent of conventional apples have detectable levels of pesticides.

- Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues.

- Seventy-eight different pesticides were found on lettuce samples.

- As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other fruit, with 64 different chemicals.

Here’s the EWG's full Dirty Dozen list, from worst to best:

Apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines (imported), grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries (domestic), potatoes.

New and notable in 2012 is that EWG has expanded the Dirty Dozen list with a "Plus category"  to highlight two crops -- green beans and leafy greens - that "did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen ™criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides" (ugh), a chemical toxic to the nervous system and that still show up on some food crops.

But, wait -- there's some good news, too.

The EWG also offers a Clean 15 list for fruits and veggies with the least amount of harmful pesticides, from best to worst:

Onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocados, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, cantaloupe (domestic), sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon and mushrooms.

EWG reports that the average person can lower his or her pesticide intake significantly by avoiding the “Dirty Dozen” offenders altogether. Choosing to buy organic will also help reduce pesticide exposure.

Visit for more information regarding current pesticide research.

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