You may be familiar with the Dirty Dozen™.  If you aren’t, you should be.  Produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the list uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rank popular fruits and vegetables with the highest loads of pesticide residues.

While healthier choices than some things people eat, non-organic strawberries rank number one on the Dirty Dozen list.  Testing shows conventional strawberries contain up to 20 different pesticides that remain on fruits and vegetables after washing and, in some cases, even after peeling.

Given the fact that fresh fruit and vegetables are key ingredients to a healthful diet, studies have shown that pesticides are not.  This is particularly true for infants and children.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” Furthermore, “Children encounter pesticides daily in air, food, dust, and soil and on surfaces through home and public lawn or garden application, household insecticide use, application to pets, and agricultural product residues. For many children, diet may be the most influential source, as illustrated by an intervention study that placed children on an organic diet (produced without pesticide) and observed drastic and immediate decrease in urinary excretion of pesticide metabolites.

In addition to the Dirty Dozen, the EWG also releases an annual list called the Clean Fifteen™.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Clean Fifteen is a list of popular fruits and vegetables that have the least pesticide residues.

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guides are a good start to learning and thinking more about pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables. They’re also helpful when buying organic isn’t an option.  In addition, making healthful food choices is an easy way to vote for a healthier food system with our wallets at the supermarket—or better yet, at our local farmers markets, where we can purchase the most beautiful tasty produce from small to medium sized local organic farms like we do at EASTsmf.  This is also a great way to talk with local growers about their farming practices and compensate them directly for their commitment to sustainable agriculture.