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Strawberries, spinach, and kale top this year’s Dirty Dozen list for pesticide residue, but raisins are worse

Nearly 70 percent of the fresh produce sold in the United States contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group’s 2020 Dirty Dozen. This year’s Dirty Dozen are:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

However, the dirtiest produce commodity isn’t a fresh fruit or vegetable, it’s a dried one – raisins.

For the first time since 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture included raisins in its most recent tests for pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Of the 670 conventional raisin samples analyzed, 99 percent tested positive for at least two pesticides. On average, each sample was contaminated with more than 13 pesticides, and one sample had 26 pesticides.

The EWG suggests that consumers who want to eat raisins buy organic. For those looking for another dried fruit, the EWG recommends prunes, which USDA tests found had much lower pesticide residues than either conventional and organic raisins.

The organization also recommends that whenever possible, consumers purchase organic versions of produce on the Dirty Dozen list.

On the EWG’s clean 15 list are:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn*
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya*
  6. Sweet peas frozen
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Kiwi

*A small amount of sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the U.S. is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.

“Infants, babies and young children are exquisitely vulnerable to even low levels of pesticide exposure, so it’s important parents and caregivers take steps to safeguard children from these chemicals while also providing them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Philip Landrigan, M.D., a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society at Boston College.

“For many Americans, choosing an all-organic diet is not possible, so using EWG’s guide can help give consumers the tools to provide their families with a mix of both conventional and organic fruits and veggies without the pesticide punch,” Landrigan said.

On the coronavirus, “Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The agency recommends consumers always wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before preparing or eating food and after nose-blowing, coughing, sneezing, or using the bathroom.

The CDC estimates about one in six Americans get sick each year from foodborne illnesses such as E.coli and salmonella, and 3,000 die. Many of the most recent foodborne outbreaks have occurred from people eating tainted produce items, including leafy greens and melons. To better protect consumers, the CDC and the FDA recommend thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before preparing them to eat.  

Other tips to protect yourself and your family from getting ill from foodborne pathogens include peeling produce when possible, removing the outer layers of leafy greens, washing with soap and warm water the cutting boards and other surfaces where food is prepared, and cooking vegetables at higher heat than you may normally do.


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