EWG Dirty Dozen

By Dr. Alyssa Musgrove


Last week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, released its annual report, “A Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” The report lists the Dirty Dozen, fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue, and the Clean Fifteen, for which few, if any, residues were detected.


Drawing from tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 2021 report found nearly 70 percent of non-organic produce tested had pesticide residue. (Before testing fruits and vegetables, the USDA washes, scrubs and peels them, as consumers would.)

This year, collard and mustard greens join kale on the dirty list. One sample of mustard greens had 20 different pesticides, and some kale and collard samples had as many as 17. Bell peppers and hot peppers were added to this year’s list at No. 10. The USDA found 115 pesticides on peppers – the most, by far, found on any item.

Although no citrus fruits landed on the Dirty Dozen, this year’s Shopper’s Guide highlights the concerning levels of toxic pesticides found on these fruits, not only in USDA tests but also in independent laboratory tests commissioned by EWG. In the EWG tests, nearly 90 percent of all the conventionally grown oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and lemons sampled contained either imazalil or thiabendazole, an endocrine-disrupting fungicide. More than half the samples had both. 


While most pesticide residues the USDA finds fall within government-mandated restrictions, it’s important to point out that legal limits aren’t necessarily safe. Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms, such as insects, invasive plants and fungi.  Given their designed purpose, it should come as no surprise that pesticides could have a negative effect on human health, as well. There have been many health risks linked directly to pesticides – including infertility, brain and nervous system issues, cancer and hormone disruption – so it makes sense to keep your exposure as low as possible. 

In a perfect world, we would all buy and eat 100% organic.  However, organic options aren’t always available, and they often come with a heftier price tag. If fully organic isn’t in your budget, you can eliminate many of the pesticides from your food by prioritizing certain organic foods. The EWG’s annual lists provide a great place to start. 


EWG’s 2021 Dirty Dozen List

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale/Collard/Mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Peaches
  9. Pears
  10. Bell and hot peppers
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes


EWG’s 2021 Clean 15

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn*
  3. Pineapples
  4. Onions
  5. Papayas*
  6. Frozen sweet peas
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Broccoli
  10. Cabbage
  11. Kiwifruit
  12. Cauliflower
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Honeydew
  15. Cantaloupe


*Although shown to have the among the lowest amounts of pesticide residue, sweet corn and papayas sold in the United States are genetically-modified crops (GMOs). You should still choose organic versions of these crops in order to avoid the GMO varieties. 


There are a couple important things to keep in mind when using these lists:


  1. Fruits and veggies are the foundation to a healthy diet.  If you can’t buy organic, you are still better off eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables rather than not eating them at all.  Always eat lots of vegetables, but choose organic when possible, especially when it comes to The Dirty Dozen.


  1. If you are unable to purchase organic, consider peeling your produce.  For example, remove and discard the outermost leaves of lettuce and cabbage. Peel your potatoes and apples. 


  1. For produce that you cannot peel, wash thoroughly – organic or not.  To clean your vegetables at home, mix one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to one cup of water and soak your desired fruit or vegetable. Stir periodically for five minutes before draining, rinsing and using.  Alternately, you can make a solution of one part vinegar and three parts water and keep in a spray bottle near the sink.  Simply spray your produce, then rinse under cold water.


Finally, the EWG points out that there is no evidence that people can be exposed to COVID-19 through food. The spread pattern for coronavirus is quite different from those of foodborne pathogens like salmonella and E.coli. That is why, even though the risks of COVID-19 are serious, consumers should continue eating plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables, whether they are conventional or organic.


Pathways to Healing specializes in holistic chiropractic care. Dr. Alyssa Musgrove draws on a variety of techniques, including chiropractic, kinesiology, nutrition, food allergy testing and lifestyle counseling to assist clients in achieving optimal health and wellness in one setting. Pathways to Healing is located at 1022 Founders Row, Lake Oconee Village, Greensboro. The office can be reached at 706-454-2040.


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