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An Apple a Day

August 20th, 2012  |  The Blog

Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual list of clean and dirty produce. Surprisingly, apples are on the dirty list. Clean and dirty is based on whether or not the produce is affected by pesticides.

Exposure to pesticides can cause a variety of medical issues:

  • Brain toxicity
  • Cancer
  • Hormone fluctuation
  • Ocular (eye) irritation
  • Skin irritation
  • Pulmonary irritation

The EWG has conducted and published the clean and dirty testing for the past eight years. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards were used to develop the EWG study guidelines.

The testing for pesticides is done on fruits and vegetables after they have been washed and/or peeled. This gives the consumer an accurate read of the pesticide exposure for each item before consumption.

The Dirty Dozen

Here is the list of the most affected fruits and vegetables, those with the highest pesticide residue:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines, imported
  • Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Blueberries, domestically grown
  • Potatoes

The study group expanded the list of concerning produce to include two new items in a “plus” category: green beans and green leafy vegetables like kale and collard greens. A neurotoxic, but yet-to-be banned, insecticide continues to be found on random crops of these “plus” items in the U.S.

The Flip Side

The EWG also prepares a list of those fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residue. Some of the clean produce does, admittedly, have some undetected pesticide residue. The clean list includes:

  • Onions
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Watermelon
  • Mushrooms

What About the Baby?

The EWG tested a sampling of baby food for pesticide residue, for the first time in 2012. Green beans, pears and sweet potatoes were tested. Green beans were the dirtiest and showed the remains of five different pesticides. Pears were positive for one pesticide. Sweet potatoes found in baby food were clean, no pesticide residue was found.

The Solution

Despite potential pesticide residue, eating some fruits and vegetables is better than eating none. It is the healthy choice.

That said, the recommendation to help avoid consuming harmful pesticide residue is to buy organic, especially those items listed on the dirty dozen list.

According to some scientists, the levels of pesticide residue are so low that there need not be any cause for alarm among consumers. Awareness of the potential exposure is important but the risk for developing any serious medical issue is low when consuming conventionally grown produce.


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