Strawberries Top EWG’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ Toxicity List

Strawberries Top EWG’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ Toxicity List

Apples, peaches and blueberries would fill fruit bowls and crown desserts in anyone’s idea of paradise. But for consumers who haven’t yet made the switch to organic, these are three of the top forbidden fruits, sweet nutrient-rich creations that emerge from the modern agricultural supply chain corrupted by high levels of pesticide residue.

That’s according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) survey of pesticides in produce, a report that each year supplies new reasons to reflect on the value of organic fruits, vegetables and grains. Based on analysis of USDA and FDA testing, EWG found pesticides on 75 percent of produce sampled from store shelves. For those items that made the “Dirty Dozen” list, 95 percent of samples were contaminated.

Green beans and leafy greens such as kale carried high concentrations of a dangerous class of pesticides the U.S. government banned years ago. According to Stephen Gleave, a Canadian lawyer with a special interest in food purity, this finding is particularly troubling. “Organophosphate pesticides have been linked with neurodevelopmental effects in children,” he says. “That means parents should be extra vigilant when it comes to exposing very young children to these pesticides, as infants in particular  are more susceptible to the effects of chemicals than adults.”

The EWG survey also found an array of fungicides on many of these fruits and vegetables, including fludioxonil, pyraclostrobin, boscalid and pyrimethanil. In addition to their toxicity, many of these fungicides are endocrine disruptors that can harm the male reproductive system.

“Fungicides are applied on fruits and vegetables to prevent or kill fungal diseases like powdery mildew,” explains EWG senior toxicologist Alexis Temkin. “They’re often applied after harvest to keep produce mold-free on its way to market. That’s likely why fungicide concentrations were so high on some samples – higher than other pesticides applied earlier in the growing season.”

In the testing, dozens of pesticides were found on fruits such as blueberries and apples, as well as leafy greens and celery. “Lettuce has traditionally played the role of canary in the coal mine when it comes to the health and purity of our food supply,” notes Stephen Gleave. “That is because it draws in a range of contaminants from its surface, and these toxins become an intrinsic part of its internal structure. It’s no accident that E. coli outbreaks typically involve lettuce.”

Overall, EWG found these conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables have the highest concentrations of pesticide residue:

1. Strawberries

2. Spinach

3. Kale, collard and mustard greens

4. Grapes

5. Peaches

6. Pears

7. Nectarines

8. Apples
9. Bell and hot peppers

10. Cherries

11. Blueberries 

12. Green beans


The good news from the EWG’s research is reflected in its “Clean Fifteen” list, fruits and vegetables with the highest purity. Two-thirds had zero pesticide residue, and the others carried trace amounts, far below the levels of the Dirty Dozen.

These conventional items had the lowest pesticide count:

1. Avocado (safest)

2. Sweet corn

3. Pineapples

4. Onions

5. Papaya

6. Sweet peas

7. Asparagus

8. Honeydew melon

9. Kiwi

10. Cabbage

11. Watermelon

12. Mushrooms

13. Mangoes

14. Sweet Potatoes

15. Carrots

EWG and Stephen Gleave agree that a two-pronged strategy is the best way to protect your family from chemicals and contaminants. First, buy organic wherever you can, says Stephen Gleave. And if organic varieties are not available, avoid anything on the Dirty Dozen list. The risks outweigh the nutritional benefits nature packs into her bounty, Gleave adds.