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EWG’s 2020 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Lists

Nearly 70% of fresh, non-organic produce sold in the United States contains residues of pesticides…

That’s the main takeaway from the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2020 analysis of pesticides in produce. And it could have implications for your bone health!

Pesticides are bad news for your bones, because many are pro-oxidant, which means they produce free radicals in your body. And free radicals can trigger low-grade, chronic inflammation which can be an underlying cause of bone loss! You can read all about the research on pesticides and bone health on our “Top Causes of Osteoporosis” page.

That’s why we recommend buying organic produce whenever you can. But we also understand that depending on the time of year or where you live, organic options aren’t always available. Plus, they tend to be more expensive. 

Thankfully, the “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen” lists make it easier for you to decide which conventionally grown foods are safe and healthy to eat, and which are worth spending a little extra on to go organic.

The 2020 Dirty Dozen

The following 12 fruits and veggies ranked the worst in this year’s analysis.

Dirty Dozen 2020

Raisins don’t appear on the list because they’re a dried fruit, not fresh produce. But it’s worth noting that 99% of non-organic raisins contained at least two chemical residues!

This year’s dirty dozen is exactly the same as last year. Over 90% of the strawberry, spinach, kale, nectarine, apple, and cherry samples contained residues of two or more pesticides!

It gets even worse for kale too. Multiple samples of kale contained as many as 18 different pesticide residues. And worse still, the most common pesticide found on kale this year was chlorthyl-dimethyl (DCPA). This pesticide is regarded as a possible human carcinogen by the The Environmental Protection Agency, and was banned by the European Union in 2009.

The 2020 Clean Fifteen

The following 15 fruits and veggies contained the least amount, and lowest concentration of pesticide residues.

Clean Fifteen 2020

The cleanest of all, for the third year in a row, is the healthy, fat-rich avocado! Less than 2% of avocado samples contained any detectable pesticide residues.

The rest of the Clean Fifteen list is largely the same as last year. The fruits and veggies on the list are the same, there were just a few position changes in the middle of the pack.

Want these lists for yourself?

Download the PDF here, print it out, and take it grocery shopping! 

Or if you’d rather have a pictureless version, click here for the picture-free PDF. (I like to stick my list to my kitchen cupboard as a reminder.)

How Are the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Ranked?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) test thousands of samples of produce sold in America. And the EWG analyzes the samples to determine which produce has the most pesticide residues (the Dirty Dozen) and which has the least pesticide residues (the Clean Fifteen.)

Then the EWG uses their findings to form the “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce.”

To compare pesticide contamination on each food, the EWG uses the following six measures:

  • The percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides.
  • The total number of pesticides found on the crop.
  • The percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides.
  • The average number of pesticides found on a single sample.
  • The average amount of pesticides found, measured in parts per million.
  • The maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample.

If you’d like to delve a little further into clean and dirty produce, the EWG publishes a full version of their produce guide. It contains all 47 fruits and veggies involved in the pesticide tests. Check it out to see how produce like lettuce and bananas stack up against the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen.

How to Wash Your Fruits and Veggies

The produce in the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists was peeled and rinsed in cold water before testing, to mimic how people would prepare food for themselves at home. 

This shows that washing your produce doesn’t remove all pesticides. But the EWG states that unwashed produce will contain more pesticides than washed produce.

So, it’s important to wash your produce! While the Clean Fifteen boasts less pesticide residue than the Dirty Dozen list, you still need to wash your produce to ensure you’re consuming the least possible amount of dirt, dust, and pesticide residue.

But what’s the most effective way to wash your fruits and veggies? Here are a few tips from the FDA to help you out…

Don’t:

  • Wash fruit and veggies with soap or detergent
  • Use an abrasive brush on delicately skinned fruit

Do:

  1. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing fruit and veggies.
  2. Place fruits and veggies in your sink* and fill with cold, distilled water for two to three minutes. Soak produce with ridges and crevices (like broccoli and cauliflower) for a few minutes longer.
  3. Rinse your produce before you peel or cut it, to prevent any bacteria transfer from the knife to the produce.
  4. For produce with thick skin, use a gentle vegetable brush to help lift away additional pesticides and microbes.
  5. Drain your sink and dry your fruit and veggies when you’ve finished washing!

* Make sure to disinfect your sink before you wash your produce. Another option is to fill a large bowl with clean water and wash your veggies there instead.

You may be thinking that commercial produce washes are missing from our Do list. But studies have shown that cold, distilled tap water is just as effective, if not more so, than costly veggie rinses.

Researchers at the University of Maine tested the following three commercial wash treatments:

  • J0-4 Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer
  • Fit®
  • Ozone Water Purifier XT-301

All three products were tested according to package directions. The researchers tested them on low-bush blueberries.

As well as the three commercial washes, a water wash was also tested. The blueberries were put in distilled water for one to two minutes.

Here are the results:

  • Fit® wash was able to get rid of the same amount of microbes as distilled water. Both reduced the level of pesticide residue compared to unwashed samples.
  • The J0-4 Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer and The Ozone Water Purifier XT-301 removed microbes from the blueberries. But the distilled water was more effective than both of the ozone washes.

Simple water for the win!

But why distilled water? Distilled water has been purified and filtered to remove contaminants. If you don’t have distilled water available, you can use cold tap water instead.

I hope you found this post useful 🙂 Let me know what surprised you most in the comments section below!

Author: Monica Straith, BS

Monica is the PR and Outreach Manager and Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal. She’s an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, and has a B.S. and B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she played varsity soccer for four years. Monica pulls from her experience in athletics and health to contribute to AlgaeCal and has also been featured on myfitnesspal blog, Prevention, and Huffington Post.

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