Strawberries remained at the top spot on an annual list of fruits and vegetables found to have the highest traces of pesticides.
The 2021 “Dirty Dozen,” released Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group, ranked pesticide residue levels of fruits and vegetables based on samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
There were two noticeable changes to this year’s list, said Thomas Galligan, an EWR toxicologist.
Collard and mustard greens joined the list at No. 3, sharing a spot with kale. The pesticide most frequently found on these greens was DCPA, a compound classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible carcinogen, he added.
The second addition to this year’s “Dirty Dozen” are bell peppers and hot peppers which ranked at No. 10, Galligan said. “In the most recent test, they found 115 pesticides on different peppers.”
Nearly 70% of non-organic produce sold in the country contains pesticide residues, the new EWG report stated. And more than 90% of samples including strawberries, apples and leafy greens tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
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A CDC analysis found only 1 in 10 adults get enough fruits and vegetables, with men, younger adults and people with lower incomes consuming the fewest.
“The most important thing is that everyone should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables,” Galligan said. “We do recommend you try to reduce your pesticide exposure. Choose organic whenever possible.”
That’s why EWG also released the “Clean Fifteen,” a list of produce that tested with lower trace amounts of pesticides.
“Try to choose organic options for those 12 (Dirty Dozen),” Galligan said. “But if you can’t afford or don’t have access to those organic foods, then you can turn to our Clean Fifteen list.”
Avocados and sweet corn took the top two spots on the clean list where fewer than 2% of samples showed any detectable pesticides.
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However, there are some concerns this annual list may scare shoppers away from non-organic fruits and vegetables which tend to cost less than their organic counterparts and may be more accessible to consumers living in areas without multiple grocery options.
“This list should have no impact on your shopping habits,” said Tamika Sims, senior director of food technology at the International Food Information Council, a nonprofit supported by food, beverage and agricultural industries.
Organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are not regulated more than the other, Sims said. The USDA and EPA, among others, “work conservatively to make sure all these fruits and vegetables are safe for consumption.”
If the concern over the potential for pesticide residue remains, Sims said there are other options.
“Think about buying the frozen version,” she said. “(Frozen) fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious and good for you, and safe, as the fresh ones. Canned goods are a great option, too.”
EWG’s Dirty Dozen for 2021
EWG’s Clean Fifteen for 2021
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