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How to reduce the amount of harmful pesticides you and your children eat

EWG_FN-2018_PRAll adults and children should eat more fruits and vegetables, whether they’re organic or conventionally grown, most diet plans and health care professionals recommend. The EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce can help you choose healthy produce while cutting down on unwanted doses of toxic pesticides.

Pesticide residues are common on conventionally grown produce, even after it’s washed or peeled. The EWG's analysis of the most recent tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly 70 percent of samples of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues.

The USDA tests found 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples analyzed. The EWG's review of the tests shows that there are big differences among various types of produce. The Shopper's Guide lists the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, and the Clean 15, for which few if any, residues were detected.

Key findings from this year’s guide:

  • More than one-third of strawberry samples analyzed in 2016 contained 10 or more pesticide residues and breakdown products.
  • More than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, peaches, potatoes, nectarines, cherries, and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.
  • Spinach samples had, on average, almost twice as much pesticide residue by weight compared to any other crop.
  • Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions, and cabbages had no pesticide residues.
  • No single fruit sample from Clean 15 tested positive for more than four pesticides.

“It is vitally important that everyone eats plenty of produce, but it is also wise to avoid dietary exposure to toxic pesticides, from conception through childhood,” said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst for the EWG. “With EWG’s guide, consumers can fill their fridges and fruit bowls with plenty of healthy conventional and organic produce that isn’t contaminated with multiple pesticide residues.”

Twenty-five years after the National Academy of Sciences issued a report raising concerns about children’s exposure to toxic pesticides through their diets, Americans still consume a mixture of pesticides every day. While vegetables and fruits are essential components of a healthy diet, research suggests that pesticides in produce may pose health risks.

New studies link high-pesticide produce to poorer fertility

Two recent studies from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found an association between eating high-pesticide-residue produce and fertility problems.

Women who reported eating two or more servings per day of produce with higher pesticide residues were 26 percent less likely to have a successful pregnancy during the study than participants who ate fewer servings of these foods. Male participants who ate high-residue produce had poorer sperm quality. Both studies included couples seeking treatment at a fertility clinic and found that the frequency of eating low-residue fruits and vegetables wasn’t associated with fertility problems.

A pesticide that causes brain damage in kids detected on some produce

The neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos, which can harm children’s brains and nervous systems, is applied to apples, bell peppers, peaches, nectarines, and other produce.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was set to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos on foods in 2017. But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt squashed the ban after Dow Chemical, which manufactures the chemical, complained. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the EWG urged Pruitt to reconsider his decision, but he refused.

The academy, which represents 66,000 of the nation’s pediatricians, recommends that parents consult EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to help reduce their children’s pesticide consumption.

"There is a reason pediatricians encourage parents to consult EWG’s guide and take other steps to reduce their child’s exposure pesticides,” said Philip Landrigan, M.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. "Pesticides can cause harm to infants, babies and young children at even low levels like those found on some foods.” 

Landrigan, dean of global health and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai, was the principal author of the National Academy of Sciences study, “Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children.” The study led to the enactment of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which set safety standards for pesticides on foods.


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I'm a big fan of avocados and pineapples. Scary about the strawberries and potatoes. The thicker the skin, the less likely you need to be worried. Otherwise, go organic.


Hi Rebecca,

Yes, it's a good list for information. Buy organic whenever you can.

I recently read a Consumer Reports article that recommends soaking apples and other non-organic fruits and vegetables for 12 minutes in soda water to remove the pesticides. I tried it for a non-organic apple that I got at a conference, then brought home.


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