The Dirty Dozen is a catchy name the Environmental Working Group has given the twelve conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide levels—even after peeling and washing. The EWG says that by avoiding the Dirty Dozen—or eating organic versions of them—consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent. They update the list yearly, basing it on tests for pesticides on produce collected by the USDA and the US FDA.
Pesticide exposure has been linked in various studies to cancer, nervous system damage, and reproductive issues. Pesticides have been shown to cross the placenta during pregnancy. A study from the University of Washington (Seattle) found that preschoolers fed conventional diets had six times the level of certain pesticides in their urine as those who ate organic foods. Another report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected twice the level of some pesticides in the urine of children as in that of adults. Minimizing exposure is a smart precautionary measure.
In 2012 the list included apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines (imported), grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries (domestic), and , potatoes.
Stick the Dirty Dozen in your wallet to refer to when shopping.
It can be challenging, both logistically and financially, to only eat organic food. Happily, organic produce is increasingly available at grocery stores, natural food markets, and farmers’ markets.
Inexpensive ways to stock up on organic produce include buying a CSA farm share, joining a food co-op, reducing the amount of packaged food you eat, and growing your own.