EWG's 2024 Dirty Dozen/Clean 15

EWG Releases its Dirty Dozen/Clean 15

March was a month of many celebrations. Some we may have celebrated include St. Patrick’s Day and the first day of Spring. Celebrations we may have missed include National Spinach Day, World Wildlife Day, National Introverts Day, National Nutrition Day, the celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, National Invest in Veterans Day, National Meat Out Day, Dishwasher Appreciation Day (yea!), and we may have overlooked Fill Your Stapler Day. You may have (or may not have) celebrated the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.

The day I always look forward to in March is when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases the yearly Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce – the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. Every year since 2004, EWG has released its report listing the fruits and vegetables that are the most heavily laden with pesticides and which have the least amount of pesticide residue. This guide helps us make better choices in the produce department.

EWG reviews the latest testing completed by the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration of more than 47,000 samples of 46 vegetables and fruits. The USDA washes, peels, and scrubs the produce before testing and the FDA only removes the dirt. EWG reports the USDA and FDA found traces of 254 different pesticides on 75% of the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables they analyzed, and 209 of these pesticides were on produce found on the Dirty Dozen list. The amounts of pesticides found fell within the legal limits. However, because they fall within the legals limits does not mean the pesticides and fungicides are safe according to the Environmental Working Group.

Not everyone agrees with EWG’s report. Because 75% of the produce that EWG tested was within the legal limits of pesticides allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, Carl Winter, emeritus professor of cooperative extension at the University of California, Davis believes EWG’s report is misleading. Some claim EWG overstates the health risks. However, Alexis Temkin Ph.D. and Senior Toxicologist at EWG believes just because a pesticide falls within the legal limits does not guarantee it is safe. In 2017 the American Academy of Pediatrics said the pesticide chlorpyrifos which is associated with brain damage in children and fetuses, was on the EPA’s approval list, despite EWG’s efforts to get it removed. (It has since been revoked). EWG reports several peer-reviewed studies have shown eating foods with high amounts of pesticides, including those found on the Dirty Dozen list, increases the risk of “certain health harms,” and when organic produce is chosen instead, the amount of pesticide residues in the body is quickly reduced.

Fungicides are also applied to fruits and vegetables to prevent mildew and other fungal diseases and to prevent mold from forming on produce while in transit to the store.  Evidence indicates two of the most frequently found fungicides on the Dirty Dozen list, fludioxonil and pyrimethanil may be endocrine disruptors according to Dr. Temkin and reports other pesticides can cause brain and nervous system toxicity and hormone disruption.

The purpose behind EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 guide is to give consumers, who have concerns about the amount of pesticides on the fruits and vegetables they eat, an easy, affordable, and trustworthy way to know which produce have the higher levels of pesticide residue and which have the least amount of residue.

Organic produce can be hard to find, and it can be expensive. We can economically avoid many of the pesticides found in and on fruits and vegetables by purchasing organic produce found on the Dirty Dozen list and buy conventionally grown produce from the Clean 15 list which have lesser amounts of pesticides. Nearly 65% of the 2024 Clean 15 produce samples didn’t have any detectable pesticide residues. Dr. Alexa Friedman, EWG Senior Scientist, encourages consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables even if they are not organic because it is better to eat produce than choose not to eat it because it is not organic.

The Environmental Working Group’s work has always been the “go to” to get reliable information regarding the safety of food, water, farming, and agriculture practices, as well as toxic chemicals, cleaning supplies, and clean energy. Their review on these matters helps guide us to make informed choices every day.

To affordably minimize your exposure to potentially toxic chemicals found on produce, buy organic foods found on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list and conventionally grown foods found on the Clean 15 list shown below.

EWG's 2024 Dirty Dozen/Clean 15

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