In May the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published the 2018 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tested thousands of conventionally grown produce for pesticide residue. They found that 70% of the produce was contaminated with 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdowns (1)! That is wild! If buying 100% of your fruits and vegetables organic is not possible, these lists can help guide you toward which foods to prioritize.

Dirty Dozen

The most pesticide residues identified.

I encourage you to buy organic.

Strawberries *
Spinach *
Nectarines *
Apples *
Peaches *
Cherries *
Sweet bell peppers

* More than 98% of these tested positive for more than one pesticide residue.

Spinach had 1.8x as much pesticide residue comparatively

Clean Fifteen

Few, if any, pesticide residues identified.

Less of a priority to buy organic.

Sweet corn
Pineapples *
Cabbages *
Onions *
Frozen sweet peas
Papayas *
Asparagus *

* More than 80% had no pesticide residue

Why do we care?

Pesticides are toxic and influence our health in the worst of ways. One of the most commonly used pesticides are the organophosphate insecticides. Organophosphate insecticides are classified as highly toxic and are used for insect control in lots of different food crops (2). In 2016 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that approximately 40 different organophosphate insecticides are registered for use in the United States (2). Human exposure can occur by ingesting contaminated crops and from hand-to-mouth contact with surfaces. It is efficiently absorbed and (like most toxins) are fat soluble. Fat soluble means they are stored in our fat cells (3)! Exposure can alter our nervous system, muscular action or incoordination, respiratory function, sensory and behavioral disturbances, and depress our motor function (3). Long-term effects can occur following acute or massive exposures and can cause symptoms including depression, memory and concentration problems, irritability, persistent headaches and motor weakness (3).

How to begin limiting pesticide exposure

  •  Eat organic if possible
  •  Shop local or at farmers markets
  • Use the Dirty 12 and Clean 15 as a guide
  • Wash your produce really well
  • If you plant your own produce, use organic soil
  • If you spray your own produce, use natural insecticides

Helpful and informative resources

Find restaurants, farms, and markets with local and sustainable food

Maps of local farms, farmers markets, food co-ops, farm stands, and events

Resources for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

National Farmers Market Directory


1. Lunder, S. (2018, April 10). EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved from

2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, December 23). Biomonitoring Summary: Organophosphorus Insecticides: Dialkyl Phosphate Metabolites. Retrieved from

3. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). Organophosphate Insecticides. In EPA 6th edition. Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings. Retrieved from

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