A Complete Guide to the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen

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A Complete Guide to the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen

And whether you should even care what it says.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) just released it’s annual Shopper’s Guide. This guide is created to help us reduce pesticide exposure as much as possible in the produce we choose to eat. The wide-spread advice that stems from this guide are this: If you’re on a budget and want to eat organic, focus on purchasing organic produce that tops the Dirty Dozen and save by purchasing conventional produce on The Clean Fifteen. Remember it’s a GUIDE and shouldn’t be taken as a HAVE TO.

Quick Background

The list gives the top 12 conventionally grown fruits or vegetables with the most pesticides, aka The Dirty Dozen, and the top 15 types of produce that have the least, The Clean Fifteen. The 2019 list doesn’t look that much different than 2018 with one exception: Kale! You may be seeing headlines in the media like “Kale is one of the dirtiest vegetables…” but you know how they do: sensationalize. So what should you take away from their Shopper’s Guide, if anything?

The EWG analyzes pesticide data from the USDA on over 40 fruits and vegetables. Prior to testing, the fruits and vegetables are washed and prepped similar to how consumers use them. The USDA doesn’t measure each item every year, so the EWG uses the most recent data available to compile the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. Insert kale. It hasn’t been tested in over 10 years, so I don’t think it should be a shocker that it’s level has increased. Since kale has moved itself from plate garnish to stardom, there’s been an obvious increase in demand most likely leading to the use of more pesticides to ensure the crop doesn’t become damaged.

The Dirty Dozen

Not much has changed from the 2018 list. Sweet bell peppers dropped off the top 12 and kale popped up at number 3. But like I mentioned above, kale hadn’t been tested in 10 years so who’s to say it shouldn’t have been there last year. Celery tops the list and well that’s probably sad news for all those Medical Medium followers who hopped on the celery juice fad this year.

So what to do if you want to limit pesticides but can’t afford organic?

Did you know? Produce is typically washed in a bleach solution and rinsed prior to hitting store shelves. The purpose is really to wash away any dirt and harmful bacteria, not to remove pesticides.

  • Wash your produce with water as soon as you get it home and scrub those items that can handle it (mushrooms and berries can’t). The longer the pesticides sit on the produce the more it penetrates the food.

  • A study showed that baking soda was effective at removing pesticides. Consider submerging your vegetables in a bath of 1 tsp baking soda to 2 cups of water. Rinse again.

  • Vinegar: I swear it’s like liquid gold. Try a vinegar bath of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water and soak for 20-30 minutes and rinse.

The Clean Fifteen

Good news for all those ‘cado and cauliflower fans! Usually anything with a tough outer skin helps protect the pesticides from penetrating the produce. Ah hem. I would NEVER buy organic bananas. You should see the look I’ve given Mr. Well Crafted when he’s thrown organic bananas in the cart. Side note: Does anyone else always sing like Gwen Stefani “B.A.N.A.N.A.S” whenever you spell it? Definitely skip the organic versions of these if you are trying to save some coin.

The number 1 most important thing is for Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, period. I don’t care if it’s organic or not.
— Mandi Knowles

So What’s My Take On All This

Like anything related to food recommendations, there is always another side. The levels detected by the USDA are not even close to exceeding what the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) claims as safe. This is rarely mentioned (if at all) when these lists are plastered all over the news. I’m all for education and providing consumers with the facts so they can make their own decisions when it comes to purchasing food. However, sometimes I feel like it’s portrayed as just another rule. And who needs another one of those. Organic produce is no more nutritious than conventional produce. It boils down to this: The number 1 most important thing is for Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, period. I don't care if it's organic or not. And there should be no fear attached to eating conventional produce. If you can afford organic and it's important to you, buy it. If you are on a mission to save, buy conventional and wash it.