What is the “Dirty Dozen?”

What does this mean for your health? Keep reading to learn more.

By Maddie Roberts

According to the Environmental Working Group, over 70% of non-organic fresh produce is exposed to harmful pesticides. Consuming harmful pesticides and other chemicals through our food can lead to negative health outcomes, such as an increased risk for nervous system and reproduction issues. So, if we know this, why are pesticides even used on our food? The World Health Organization explains that pesticides are used to protect crops from harmful pests such as weeds and insects. After being tested for effectiveness and potential health effects, pesticides can be authorized for use.

The Environmental Working Group shares its list of “Dirty Dozen” produce each year. The Dirty Dozen is a list of produce that has the highest levels of pesticide residue, which has the most potential for negative health effects. The ranking is determined by data from the United States Department of Agriculture (and independent studies). 

The 2022 Dirty Dozen (first 12): 

  1. Strawberries 
  2. Spinach 
  3. Kale, Collard, and Mustard Greens
  4. Nectarines 
  5. Apples 
  6. Grapes 
  7. Bell and Hot Peppers 
  8. Cherries 
  9. Peaches 
  10. Pears 
  11. Celery 
  12. Tomatoes 

Each of the foods listed are grocery store staples. It is common knowledge that eating fruits and vegetables is essential for a balanced diet, which leads to a healthier diet. But if they are all exposed to harmful chemicals, what is the solution? 

It is recommended to buy these products from organic farms to avoid ingesting pesticides. However, organic foods are usually more expensive, which is not a viable option for everyone. Thankfully, there are ways to get around these challenges.

If possible, growing your own produce is a great way to ensure that what you are eating is the best possible quality. Home gardens can even include herbs, which can be grown indoors; windowsills and small tables adjacent to sunlight work best. 

Luckily, the Environmental Working Group also curates a “Clean Fifteen” list, highlighting the produce with the least amount of pesticide residue. All of the following foods are similarly healthy. But if the “Dirty Dozen” worries you, try something delicious from the “Clean Fifteen.”

The 2022 Clean Fifteen includes: 

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew Melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Mangoes
  14. Watermelon
  15. Sweet Potatoes

Eating produce is necessary to develop stable meal patterns and a healthier diet, but it is understandable why some may be hesitant about eating produce affected by certain farming practices. It is important to be aware of what you eat, where it comes from, and how that can impact your health. These two lists can be a useful starting point for researching this topic and a helpful guide for your next grocery trip!

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