Are your fruits and veggies bad for you?

Popular fruits and vegetables listed on
“Top Dirtiest” due to pesticide contamination

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

You choose to eat a healthy lunch one afternoon. Instead of settling in with a burger or fries or some other fried delight, you fix or order a hearty spinach salad. “Spinach is full of vitamins,” you think, and you aren't wrong.
Spinach is an extremely nutrient-packed leafy green that is full of Vitamins B6, B9 and Vitamin E, K and C, as well as iron, folic acid and calcium.
What you don't realize, however, is that spinach has also been named in a report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that lists the top 12, or “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide contamination.
For the past three years, the EWG has published an annual report listing the current top Dirtiest Dozen produce that has been contaminated with pesticides during its growth and production.
This list includes non-organic produce that is sold in grocery stores around the United States by several big-name brands.
“Nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the United States comes with pesticide residues,” declares the EWG in their analysis.
Through data obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the EWG found traces of 225 different pesticides on popular fruits and vegetables that Americans purchase and eat every day – including some leafy greens that have been dubbed as the “power food” of healthy diets, such as kale and spinach.
According to the EWG report, each of the 12 fruits and vegetables listed on their report tested positive for a number of different pesticides.
More than 90 percent of strawberry, apple, cherry, spinach, kale and nectarine samples tested positive for at least two varieties of pesticides.
While outside researchers claim that the amount of pesticides discovered on fresh produce is within levels that are “tolerable for human consumption,” the EWG reminds that any amount of pesticide consumption could still be dangerous.
“A French study published in December in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal from the American Medical Association, found that among nearly 69,000 participants, those with the highest frequency of organic food consumption had 25 percent fewer cancers than individuals who did not eat organic food,” writes the EWG before providing further data from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health Environment and Reproductive Health. The Harvard data found that consumption of pesticides decreased fertility rates in the test participants who took part in the study.
“These findings raise important questions about the safety of pesticide mixtures found on produce and suggest that people should focus on eating fruits and vegetables with the fewest pesticide residues,” continues the EWG. “An organic diet can reduce the levels of chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic pesticide that can harm the brain of the developing fetus; malathion, a pesticide classified as a probable human carcinogen; and clothianidin, a neonicotinoid pesticide that can harm bees.”
While strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes are all on the Dirtiest Dozen list, the EWG also provides a “Clean Fifteen” list, in which they recognize the top 15 fruits and veggies that cleared tests with lesser amounts of pesticide contamination.
Lovers of avocado toast can rejoice – the avocado (which is actually a large berry) was recognized by the EWG as the cleanest, least-contaminated of all the tested produce.
Avocados are followed quickly by sweet corn, but while it is incredibly low in pesticide contamination, the EWG warns that some of the sweet corn produced and sold in the United States are produced from genetically modified seeds.
“Buy organic varieties if you want to avoid genetically modified produce,” advises the EWG.
At the conclusion of their report, the EWG issues a call for action within the United States federal government when it comes to pesticide regulation and American health.
“The federal government’s role in protecting our health, farm workers and the environment from harmful pesticides is in urgent need of reform,” writes the EWG.
According to the EWG, the USDA's Pesticide Data Program began in 1991, which included annual tests of food products in search of pesticide residues. “But we continue to be concerned about pesticide regulation in the U.S.,” advises the EWG.
While the USDA has stated that a goal of their tests is to provide data on pesticide residues in the food that makes its way to American marketplaces, the EWG reports that several food products are not tested annually at all. Such products include food items that are consumed by infants, such as baby food, oats and baby formula.
“This is troubling,” states the EWG. “Tests commissioned by EWG found almost three-fourths of samples of popular oat-based foods, including many that are consumed by children, had pesticide residue levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health.”
Currently, the United States' pesticide registration process requires companies to submit information pertaining to safety data, proposed uses and product labels to be approved by the EPA.
“However, the EPA does not conduct its own independent testing of pesticides. Neither does its review fully capture the risks posed by pesticides,” claims the EWG's report. “This is concerning because scientists have found that the combination of two or more pesticides can be more potent than the use of the pesticides individually.”
The EWG report also claims that the current pesticide laws – the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, otherwise known as FIFRA – are “far less health protective” than laws that pertain to the safety and quality of the air, water and environment in the United States.
“Not all pesticides registered under FIFRA adequately protect human health,” declares the EWG.
While the EWG requests action from the federal government in protecting human health and providing better regulations when it comes to pesticides, the EWG does offer a few tips for consumers when it comes to avoiding pesticides in their food.
Their best advice? Buy organic.
“People who eat organic produce consumer fewer pesticides,” says the EWG in the conclusion of their report.

• Wash your produce after purchasing it. While washing your fruits and veggies under the kitchen sink helps brush off any dirt, a soak under warm (not hot) water can also remove pesticide residue as well as any protective wax that your food is coated in. Always dry your produce well before eating it and avoid washing it with soap – water is enough.
• Grow your own. It's not always possible to grow a massive garden and some fruits and veggies aren't suited for our Florida temperatures. But if your family eats a lot of berries, potatoes or tomatoes, it is very easy to grow some producing plants in limited space. Tomato plants thrive in pots, potatoes can be grown in barrels and many berries require minimal work in order to produce. Be sure to use organic bug and weed repellents in your own garden.
• Peel your produce. Even after washing your produce, some experts advice peeling the produce in order to ensure there is no remaining pesticides. Strip away the outsides of leafy greens and peel cucumbers, potatoes, or other thick-skinned produce.
• Shop locally. Don't have the time to grow your own produce? Look around locally for farmers and gardeners who are selling excess fruits and vegetables. Many are already employing practical and organic gardening ethics. Not only are you eating healthy, but you are also supporting a local farm family!

To read the complete report issued by the EWG, visit ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php to access their annual analysis.