Pesticides in Your Food: How To Avoid the Worst Culprits

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) website provides much more specific information about the pesticide loads of these fruits and vegetables.

| Nov 13, 2009

Do you ever stand in the fruit and vegetable section of your food store and wonder if it's really worth it to buy organic produce? Or do you wonder which conventionally grown items you can buy to save money and which items you should absolutely buy organic? I sure do. And I always resent standing there at the market, having to choose between a piece of fruit that has been exposed to chemicals and one that hasn't. Who should have to make a choice like that? Especially if you are taking that food home to your children. No one wants to eat poison.

The good news is that there is a free resource that can help you make sound food selections (your budget not withstanding). Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington DC-based advocacy group has a handy Shopper's Guide to Pesticides on its website. They update the list annually. You can also download their free iPhone application so you always have the list with you.

EWG says that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.

Foods with the highest pesticide levels:

1. Peach

2. Apple

3. Sweet bell pepper

4. Celery

5. Nectarine

6. Strawberry

7. Cherry

8. Kale

9. Lettuce

10. Grapes (imported)

11. Carrot

12. Pear

The EWG website provides much more specific information about the pesticide loads of these fruits and vegetables. For example, about fruits, it notes that "nectarines had the highest percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (97.3 percent), followed by peaches (96.7 percent) and apples (94.1 percent)." About vegetables, the website reports that "celery had the highest of percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (94.1 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (81.5 percent) and carrots (82.3 percent).

The good ones, with the least amount of pesticide

1. Onion

2. Avocado

3. Sweet corn-frozen

4. Pineapple

5. Mango

6. Asparagus

7. Sweet peas-frozen

8. Kiwi

9. Cabbage

10. Eggplant

11. Papaya

12. Watermelon

13. Broccoli

14. Tomato

15. Sweet potato

The EWG website says, "Over half of the tomatoes (53.1 percent), broccoli (65.2 percent), eggplant (75.4 percent), cabbage (82.1 percent), and sweet pea (77.1 percent) samples had no detectable pesticides. Among the other three vegetables on the least-contaminated list (asparagus, sweet corn, and onion), there were no detectable residues on 90 percent or more of the samples."

In a related development, Canadian scientists have developed a quick and cheap "dipstick" test to detect small amounts of pesticides in food and drink. Their paper-strip test is more practical than conventional pesticide tests, they say, producing results in minutes rather than hours by means of a test strip that changes color depending on the amount of pesticide present.  In tests on food contaminated with common pesticides, the test strips produced results in less than five minutes. The scientists, who published their study in the November 1 issue of Analytical Chemistry, said the strips might be very helpful in developing countries or remote areas.

* * *


Environmental Working Group, "Reagentless Bidirectional Lateral Flow Bioactive Paper Sensors for Detection of Pesticides in Beverage and Food Samples"

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Posted by Anonymous on 15 November 2009

I'm just curious if peeling something like a carrot alters the amount of pesticide or if the level is throughout the food. Can it be washed off on an apple or a peach or a bell pepper? I'm also curious about the advocacy group---I hope they are not just promoters of organic foods.

Posted by Anonymous on 15 November 2009

The idea that pesticides used on fruit is harmful is way overblown. There is no proof that all pesticides are present in the edible product.

Posted by Anonymous on 22 November 2009

The Washington State Potato Commission and the Washington Asparagus Commission recently held a fundraiser for U.S. Senator Patty Murray in Richland, Washington on November 12, 2009.

The purpose of the fundraiser was to thank and reward Senator Patty Murray for the millions of dollars in potato and asparagus research appropriations and earmarks that the Senator has secured for the Washington State potato and asparagus industries over the past several years.

During the November 12th fundraiser, representatives from Washington State Potato Commission and Washington Asparagus Commission indicated that they would continue to raise money for and support Senator Patty Murray if she continues to bring home the earmarks for them.

The fundraiser was attended by 25 representatives of the Washington potato and asparagus industries.

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