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Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen Explained

Pesticides, used to protect crops from insects and other infestations, have been steadily on the rise for many years, with their use increasing by between 600% and 1,800% since 1970. As a result, the amount of potentially harmful chemicals entering our diets has also risen dramatically. This article takes a look at the problem of pesticide residue in our fruit and veg and offers some advice on selecting the safest foods, while still getting the right nutrition.

In an ideal world, all our fruit and vegetables would come from organic sources. Organic food growers have to adhere to strict guidelines set by the European Commission, which means that they are much less likely to contain pesticide residue than non-organic equivalents. In fact, organic food is nothing more than food as it existed for hundreds of years, before intensive agricultural farming methods began spraying it with an array of chemicals. Today we are exposed to an ever increasing number of environmental chemicals and it is the cumulative effects of this exposure, over time, that we need to be concerned about. Avoiding all toxins is not possible. However, doing what you can to limit your exposure is important. As more studies show a link between pesticide exposure and chronic health issues, it is a good idea to include organic food in your diet, due to its higher antioxidant levels and better overall nutritional value.

The Dirty Dozen

If you have the budget to eat purely organic then I certainly recommend that you do. However organic food is quite a bit more expensive than non-organic and so, for most people, it is a case of mixing and matching to stay within budget. For this reason, the 'Dirty Dozen' list was created,* which gives a list of the twelve fruit and vegetables that the U.K. government has found to contain the most pesticide residues. If you are only able to buy a few organic ingredients, these should be the ones you start with. The fruit and veg that were found to contain most instances of multiple pesticide residues and therefore make it onto the most recent 'Dirty Dozen' list are:

  1. Grapefruit (97%)

  2. Oranges (96%)

  3. Lemons and LImes (91%)

  4. Strawberries (84%)

  5. Pears (84%)

  6. Grapes (75%)

  7. Cherries (72%)

  8. Peaches (72%)

  9. Parsnips (69%)

  10. Asparagus (66%)

  11. Apples (64%)

  12. Apricots (64%)

However, if your budget means you can only afford non-organic, rather than avoiding them, washing off most of the pesticides will ensure that you do not miss out on their numerous health benefits altogether. Unfortunately, water alone will not entirely remove agricultural pesticides. Vinegar, certain commercial fruit cleaners or homemade fruit and vegetable cleaners (using lemon juice and white wine vinegar or lemon juice and baking soda) are easy to use and more effective. Most fruits can be peeled but must be washed first to ensure you do not transfer the pesticides and bacteria on the fruit. This works well with apples, peaches, pears and nectarines, for example.

Favouring foods from the 'Clean Fifteen' list below, while limiting your intake of those from the 'Dirty Dozen,' is another way of ensuring that you are limiting your exposure to harmful pesticides.

The Clean Fifteen

In order to help people with a more restricted budget make informed choices about which non-organic fruit and veg they should purchase, the 'Clean Fifteen' list was created. These fruit and veg were all found to contain little or no pesticide residues when tested.

  1. Beetroot (0%)

  2. Corn on the cob (0%)

  3. Mushrooms (0%)

  4. Figs (0%)

  5. Rhubarb (0%)

  6. Swede (0%)

  7. Turnip (0%)

  8. Onions (1%)

  9. Avocado (2%)

  10. Cauliflower (3%)

  11. Radish (4%)

  12. Broad Beans (8%)

  13. Leeks (8%)

  14. Pumpkin/Squash (8%)

If you would like to download a high resolution image of these charts to use at home, please click on the image.

*The original 'Dirty Dozen' list was produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and refers to pesticide residues in fruit and veg in the USA. If you are located in the USA, please follow this link to see the EWG list.

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