For the third year in a row, strawberries are at the top of the “dirty dozen” list for fresh produce. This list refers to the twelve produce items that contain the largest amount of pesticide residue. These foods should, therefore, be eaten organically to reduce one’s intake of harmful chemicals.
The report that lists the dirty dozen bases its findings on almost 40,000 USDA tests of 47 different fruits and vegetables. The study found that almost 70% of produce that is conventionally grown had remnants of pesticides on them and 98% of the top five items on the dirty dozen had at least one pesticide on them.
When it comes to strawberries, up to 22 different pesticides have been found on a single berry. In studies, almost all (99%) of the samples found at least one pesticide residue that was able to be detected, and 20% contained at least ten and often more than that. Researchers found the residues of 81 different pesticides in a variety of combinations on the samples of strawberries that were tested, with an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample.
To compare this to other foods on the dirty dozen list, other items have an average of 2.1 pesticides on each sample. Strawberries likely top this list because they are one of the crops that is the most heavily sprayed with pesticides. In fact, almost 300 pounds of pesticides are put onto each acre of strawberries that are grown in California. Additionally, nerve gases are used to kill insects that may harm the plants and existing weeds that are taking up space in the soil before planting the berries.
While there are a lot of chemicals used on strawberries, some of the most concerning is carbendazim, which disrupts hormones, bifenthrin, when has been identified as a possible carcinogen, and chloropicrin, which is the active ingredient in tear gas. These chemicals can lead to adverse health effects that are related to pregnancy complications and even to children with low IQs.
After strawberries on this list of possibly harmful produce were spinach, where 97% of the samples that were studied had pesticide residues. The next three on the list were nectarines, apples, and grapes.
However, there is also a list that exists that is called the “Clean Fifteen” list. This shows the produce that is the least likely to show any signs of pesticide residues. For example, fewer than 1% of samples taken from avocado and sweet corn had any pesticide residue, which put these foods as the top two on the list of the clean fifteen.
Some other foods that are generally safe to buy conventionally rather than organically are pineapples, cabbage, papayas, asparagus, and onions. These items were shown to have no pesticide residue on them over 80% of the time.
The good news is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that today’s fruits and vegetables are safer to eat than they ever have been. While the dirty dozen list does show foods that are better eaten organically, the USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration data also show that 99% of the residues that are found on these foods are far below the safety levels that are set by the Environmental Protection Agency. This means that our bodies are able to handle the low amount of pesticide residue that is often found on conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.