The Environmental Working Group lists which fruits and vegetables are highest in pesticides to help your organic dollars go further. Here's their 2022 list of the top 12 dirtiest produce.
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When making your grocery store game plan, sorting out which fruits and vegetables on your list you should buy organic can be a confusing task. Growing practices can affect produce, allowing the food to absorb pesticides, and leaving trace amounts in your meals. Buying organic, however, can limit your exposure to extra pesticides and insecticides.

Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization, releases a Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce that lists fruits and vegetables with the highest and lowest pesticide residues. The produce is tested after it's brought home from the grocery store and washed, just like you would do at home.

At EatingWell, we encourage readers to eat more fruit and vegetables, whether they're organic or not. If buying many organic foods isn't affordable or feasible for you, then a good strategy may be to buy organic versions of specific produce that ranks among the most contaminated (though even these foods only have trace levels that are deemed safe for consumption). Conventional, non-organic foods that are the least contaminated can save you some money.

Referencing the EWG's Dirty Dozen list can help you prioritize your shopping and give you peace of mind that you're limiting your family's pesticide exposure. Read below to see the 12 fruits and vegetables that the EWG recommends that you buy organic, beginning with the most contaminated food.

1. Strawberries

Strawberry Tart
Credit: Victor Protasio

Pictured Recipe: Strawberry Tart

Strawberries remain atop the list as the most pesticide-contaminated food. According to EWG, more than 99 percent of the strawberries sampled tested positive for at least one pesticide and 30 percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides. If you're concerned about pesticides, this is one time the extra cost may be warranted for peace of mind.

2. Spinach

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Spinach has more pesticide residue by weight (remember spinach leaves weigh very little) compared to any of the other produce tested, according to EWG. Relatively high concentrations of permethrin, a known neurotoxin, were found in 76 percent of the samples.

Spinach is an easy food to buy organic—many grocery stores carry organic spinach and baby spinach in the fresh produce section, as well as frozen organic spinach. Spinach is great in salad and is wonderful in smoothies or cooked down in pasta dishes and soups.

3. Kale, Collards & Mustard Greens

Citrus Kale Salad
Credit: Jason Donnelly

Pictured recipe: Citrus Kale Salad

According to the EWG, 86 percent of the conventional leafy green samples, including kale, collards and mustard greens had detectable levels of two or more pesticide residues. Their tests also showed that up to 30 percent of samples contained traces of contaminates that are known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. As if that weren't enough, 76 percent of samples contained residues of permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide, according to EWG.

4. Nectarines

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Over 90 percent of the conventional nectarine samples contained two or more pesticides, per the EWG.

5. Apples

Melting Apples
Credit: Jacob Fox

Pictured Recipe: Melting Apples

According to the EWG, detectable pesticide residues were found on 90 percent of conventionally grown apples. A large majority of the samples, 80 percent, contained diphenylamine, a pesticide that's banned in Europe, according to EWG. Apples, like many of the other fruits and vegetables on this list, have a thin peel, and as a result, the chemicals used in farming can easily pass through the peel to the flesh.

6. Grapes

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The conventional grape samples EWG tested contained an average of five different pesticide residues. More than 90 percent of all samples contained some traceable pesticide residues.

7. Bell Peppers & Hot Peppers

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During testing, 101 pesticides were detected on hot peppers and bell peppers, one of the highest number of different pesticides found on the produce tested (second only to the leafy greens), per the EWG.

8. Cherries

cherries

Pictured Recipe: Cherry-Almond Farro Salad

Over 90 percent of conventional cherry samples tested positive for two or more pesticide residues, per the EWG.

9. Peaches

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Like their cousin, the nectarine, almost all of the conventional peach samples—over 90 percent— contained two or more pesticide residues, according to the EWG.

10. Pears

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Samples of conventionally grown pears were found to contain several pesticides in high concentrations, including fungicides and insecticides. About half of the pear samples tested had residue from five or more pesticides, according to the EWG. Overall, 49 different pesticides were found in the pear samples.

11. Celery

Cream of Celery Soup

Pictured Recipe: Cream of Celery Soup

Pesticides were found to be in more than 95 percent of conventional celery samples. Thirteen different pesticides were detected on one celery sample, per the EWG.

12. Tomatoes

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The average conventionally grown tomato tested positive for nearly four types of pesticides. One sample even contained 15 various pesticides and breakdown products, per the EWG. It's easy to find organic canned tomatoes and tomato products, as well, which may be a more affordable way to enjoy organic tomatoes.

Should I Only Buy Organic Fruits and Vegetables?

You don't have to make over your grocery list overnight and begin buying only organic produce. We recognize that organic produce is often more expensive the conventional produce. Instead, you should pick and choose where to put your dollars. This list should be taken as a guide for making healthier choices. There's no wrong way to use this list, whether that's choosing to buy organic tomato sauce or seeking out organic apple growers near you.

If you're wondering which foods are on the opposite end of the spectrum and have the least amount of pesticides, check out the Environmental Working Group's Clean 15 list.