We know that cutting down on pesticide exposure is important for all of us, but especially for children and pregnant or nursing mothers. Buying organic produce is one way to cut down on exposure, but not everyone can afford that.

With that in mind, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases yearly updates on the cleanest produce (clean fifteen), and the highest sprayed produce (dirty dozen). By sticking to the clean fifteen when buying conventional produce you can substantially lower the amount of pesticides you consume through foods. I love that!

In their new findings, the group found that 65 percent of the thousands of pounds of produce they tested had some pesticide residue. They also found that every imported nectarine they tested, and 99 percent of apple samples had at least one pesticide residue. The average potato contains more pesticides by weight than any other food, and a single grape had residue from 15 pesticides.

Let’s start with the good news with the produce that was the most likely to be found without any pesticide residue.

Clean Fifteen:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwis
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes
EWG remarks on the Clean Fifteen produce list that “ relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides.” That means, if you're balancing your grocery budget with conventional and organic produce, this is the group that you can safely buy conventional versions of.

One separate word of caution: If you also avoid genetically modified foods, stick with organic papaya, as much of conventional papaya is now genetically modified.

And now for the bad news, the Dirty Dozen Plus list. This year they’ve added hot pepper, kale and collard greens to the list. While they don’t contain as high of concentrations of pesticides, they do contain especially toxic pesticides.

Dirty Dozen:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Imported nectarines
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Imported snap peas
  • Potatoes
  • Hot peppers
  • Kale & collard greens
I thought that it was really interesting that sweet potatoes are one of the best, and regular potatoes one of the worst, which shows you can’t go by blanket categories for the cleanest produce to buy. Broccoli has been on the Clean Fifteen list in the past, but didn’t make the cut this year, while cabbage and cauliflower stayed on the list.

All to say, it’s an important list to review each year, as there can be significant changes. 

Related on MNN:

2014 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce lists
EWG recently released updated information about the cleanest and most pesticide-laden produce.