Foods with most and least pesticides
November 8, 2007
Scientists for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) poured over government tests on 43 popular fruits and vegetables, focusing on the pesticide loads. They compiled two lists: one containing foods with the most pesticides and a second list of the cleanest produce.
Dirty Dozen (Foods With Most Pesticides):
- Sweet bell peppers
- Imported grapes
12 Cleanest Foods (Foods with Least Pesticides)
- Frozen sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
What’s the Difference?
An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 14 pesticides per day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to less than 2 pesticides per day.
Sweet bell peppers, celery, lettuce, spinach, and potatoes are the vegetables most likely to expose consumers to pesticides. Among these five vegetables:
*Celery had the highest of percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (94.1 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (81.5 percent) and potatoes (81.0 percent).
*Celery also had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single vegetable (79.8 percent of samples), followed by sweet bell peppers (62.2 percent) and lettuce (44.2 percent).
*Sweet bell peppers was the vegetable with the most pesticides detected on a single sample (11 found on one sample), followed by celery and lettuce (both with nine).
*Sweet bell peppers were the vegetable with the most pesticides overall with 64, followed by lettuce at 57 and celery with 30.
The vegetables least likely to have pesticides on them are onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage, broccoli, and eggplant.
The five fruits least likely to have pesticide residues on them are avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, and bananas.
*Fewer than 10 percent of pineapple, mango, and avocado samples had detectable pesticides on them and fewer than one percent of samples had more than one pesticide residue.
*Though 59 percent of bananas had detectable pesticides, multiple residues are rare with only 2 percent of samples containing more than one residue. Kiwi had residues on 15.3 percent of samples, and just 3.4 percent had multiple pesticide residues.
The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranks pesticide contamination for 44 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of nearly 51,000 tests for pesticides on these foods, conducted from 2000 and 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Contamination was measured in six different ways and crops were ranked based on a composite score from all categories.
The six measures of contamination we used were:
*Percent of the samples tested with detectable pesticides
*Percent of the samples with two or more pesticides
*Average number of pesticides found on a sample
*Average amount (level in parts per million) of all pesticides found
*Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
*Number of pesticides found on the commodity in total
Pesticides cause many adverse effects in well designed animal studies, from cancer, to nervous system damage, to reproductive effects. Rather than assign more weight to cancer than birth defects, we simply assumed that all adverse effects are equal. There is a significant degree of uncertainty about the health effects of pesticide mixtures. This ranking takes this uncertainty into account in the most defensible way possible, by simply ranking fruits and vegetables by their likelihood of being consistently contaminated with the greatest number of pesticides at the highest levels.