Getting the Dirt on Your Fruits and Vegetables
With summer here, you may be eager to fill your shopping cart with fruits and vegetables. But before adding produce to your shopping list, you might want to look at another list - the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.
What is the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen?
Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization that aims to protect the health of people and the environment by testing chemical and agricultural safety, releases a list of what they call the Dirty Dozen and a list of the Clean Fifteen. The Dirty Dozen is a list of 12 fruits and vegetables that tested for the highest amounts of pesticide residue. The Clean Fifteen are the 15 that have the lowest amounts of pesticide residue. EWG tests 45,000 samples of produce that have been prepared to be eaten - thoroughly washed and peeled, when applicable. The tests found 245 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on produce. At least one pesticide is typically found on around 70 percent of non-organic produce.
The Dirty Dozen include:
- Kale, collard & mustard greens
- Bell and hot Peppers
The Clean Fifteen include:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
How can you avoid pesticides in your produce?
Knowing which fruits and vegetables have the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides is the first step to avoiding unnecessary amounts of pesticide residue. But you don’t have to give up strawberries forever. There are a few ways to lower your exposure.
Organic foods have been certified to have been produced without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers, genetic engineering, or radiation. This means there would be no levels of pesticides left on the produce. Most grocery stores have whole aisles or sections dedicated to organic foods. However, organic produce is not always accessible or affordable for everyone. Try prioritizing which foods you buy organic to avoid higher levels of pesticide exposure. Whenever possible, buy organic versions of the produce listed as the Dirty Dozen. Certain organic versions of produce may have a negligible price difference compared to conventional versions.
Do what works best for you and your budget. Remember, it's better to have a diet rich with fruits and vegetables, even if they're not organic, than to eat processed foods.
Try buying your produce locally by going to a farmer’s market. You can find a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, all grown at farms within your area. The produce from local farms is typically grown with little to no chemicals. The food you find at the grocery store is often transported thousands of miles and handled multiple times. Buying from a farmers market means getting food grown from a few miles away, picked and sold fresh, and with minimal handling and comparatively less exposure to contaminants.
Freeze while fresh
Hankering for watermelon in the winter or winter squash in the summer? You might not be able to find organic or locally grown versions of produce when it’s out of season. Instead, try planning ahead and freezing your favorite fruits and vegetables while they’re fresh and in season. This way you can avoid having to buy conventional produce from the grocery store that may be higher in pesticide residues. Some produce freezes better than others, but many from the Dirty Dozen list - like spinach, greens, peppers, strawberries, and cherries - are great options to freeze and thaw when you need. And some, like grapes and peaches, even taste great frozen!
Eat a variety
It’s important to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and from a variety of sources or growers. This will help minimize the risk of exposure to a single pesticide, as well as giving you a better mix of nutrients.
How can you best clean your fruits and vegetables?
The most important way to safely use and consume produce - whether organic or conventionally grown - is to properly clean it.
The best - and easiest - way to wash your produce is with water. Hold soft fruits, like strawberries or blueberries, in a colander under a running tap of cold water. For spinach and greens, wash by swirling the leaves in a bowl of cold water. Use a brush to scrub fruits and vegetables with a firm skin, such as potatoes, cucumbers and melons. Soak produce with irregular surfaces, like broccoli or cauliflower, in cold water for a few minutes. Dry all of your produce thoroughly after washing.
Dissolve one tablespoon of salt for every cup of warm water. Let the vegetables and fruits soak in the saltwater for 20 to 25 minutes. After soaking, rinse with fresh cold water and dry thoroughly.
Add one teaspoon of baking soda to every two cups of cold water. Submerge your fruits and vegetables and let soak for 12 to 15 minutes. After soaking, rinse the produce and let dry thoroughly.
Add one cup of vinegar for every three cups of water. Let your produce soak for 15 to 20 minutes. After soaking, rinse the produce and let dry. This technique works best for smooth skinned produce and fruits that have a waxy coating like apples or cherries. For porous or thin skinned produce, like berries, the vinegar may affect the skin.
Don’t wash fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash. The residue from soap or detergent can stay on produce. Never wash your produce with bleach or a diluted bleach solution. Bleach is extremely harmful if ingested.
A diet rich with fresh fruits and vegetables is key to your overall health, whether or not they are organic. Avoid unnecessary exposure to pesticides when you can, but don’t let it restrict the amount of produce in your diet. The key is to thoroughly wash your produce before consuming to keep you and your family safe and healthy.
About the Author:
Lifespan Blog Team
The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.
Lifespan Living Newsletter
Find a Doctor
The right provider is in our network
Search more than 1,200 providers in our network.