Five Facts About Pesticides on Fruits and Vegetables

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A healthy diet is packed with vegetables and fruit, but some of your family’s favorites may contain startling amounts of harmful pesticides.

Farmers spray pesticides on crops to kill weeds and insects, and residues linger on fruit and vegetable skins all the way to your kitchen — even after you wash them.

In the 2016 edition of its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, EWG breaks down the latest research on pesticide levels in produce, and how you can make smart choices for your family. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Eating foods with traces of pesticides is bad for your health – especially for kids.

Although the full scope of the threat is not yet known, research confirms that pesticide exposure can harm us in serious ways. Pesticides damage our brain and nervous system, disrupt our hormones and contribute to cancer.

In developing children, especially, pesticide exposure can contribute to neurological problems, which impair learning, memory and attention.

Kids eat more food than adults relative to their size, and are less capable of processing chemicals that enter their small bodies. Both factors make them especially vulnerable to the hazardous effects of these chemicals.

2. Some fruits and vegetables have a lot of pesticide on them. Others aren’t so bad.

And you might be surprised which are which. In the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, EWG names the fresh fruits and veggies that contain the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides.

EWG analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose tests revealed traces of at least one pesticide on nearly 75 percent of fruit and vegetable samples tested in 2014.

Topping the Dirty Dozen list this year are strawberries, followed by apples, nectarines, peaches, celery and grapes. On the Clean Fifteen list, heart-healthy avocados take the No. 1 spot. (That’s especially good news for babies, since avocados make an excellent early solid food.)

3. Buy organic when you can.

To avoid pesticides altogether, we recommend buying organic whenever you can, but if your options are limited or your budget is tight, consult EWG’s list and start prioritizing your purchases.

Strawberries and apples? Organic is best. Avocados and pineapple? Conventional is a fine option.

4. Washing produce is a must – but it doesn’t completely remove pesticide residues.

Some people think that thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables removes all traces of pesticides. Cleaning produce removes dirt, traces of human handling and reduces some pesticides – but not all of them.

The USDA tests fruit and vegetables as we typically eat them, i.e., washed and, when applicable, peeled (bananas, for example). That means EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists reflect pesticide levels on produce after it’s been washed.

Pesticide levels are even higher when fruits and veggies aren’t washed, so rub your produce under running water before eating.

5. It’s always a good choice to feed your family vegetables and fruits, whether conventional or organic.

Less than a third of adults get the recommended daily amount of vegetables and fruits — and the rates are even lower for teens.

While it’s important to minimize your exposure to pesticides, regularly eating vegetables and fruits is the far bigger win for you and your loved ones.

A version of this article was originally published on

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