Top 12 Pesticide-Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables

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And the 15 cleanest, according to the annual ranking from Environmental Working Group.

Every year since 2004, the consumer health watchdog, Environmental Working Group (EWG), has released its Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The list ranks pesticide contamination of 48 commonly consumed fruits and vegetables and their total pesticide loads. The list is based on results of more than 35,200 samples of conventionally grown produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. These aren’t samples straight from the field, but after they have been prepared for eating – meaning thoroughly washed and peeled when appropriate.

Based on the tests, EWG found that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides. USDA researchers found a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples they analyzed.

Key findings:

• Nearly all samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.
• The most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides.
• Spinach samples had an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Three-fourths of spinach samples had residues of a neurotoxic pesticide banned in Europe for use on food crops - it's part of a class of pesticides that recent studies link to behavioral disorders in young children.

One of the things that makes this list so helpful is that it is can help consumers who may not be able to buy all organic in strategizing how to shop. For instance, if you can afford one organic item, make it a high-ranking item on the Dirty Dozen list and feel confident in purchasing conventionally grown items from the Clean Fifteen list – which offers the top 15 items least likely to contain pesticide.

"If you don't want to feed your family food contaminated with pesticides, the EWG Shopper's Guide helps you make smart choices, whether you're buying conventional or organic produce," said Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst. "Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they're grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic. If you can't buy organic, the Shopper's Guide will steer you to conventionally grown produce that is the lowest in pesticides."

According to the analyses, these are the worst offenders, the produce non grata:

1. Strawberries
2. Spinach
3. Nectarines
4. Apples
5. Peaches
6. Pears
7. Cherries
8. Grapes
9. Celery
10. Tomatoes
11. Sweet bell peppers
12. Potatoes

And on the happier end of the spectrum, the Clean Fifteen with the items least likely to retain pesticide residue. While buying organic when you can may be better for the health of the planet and its critters, these items at least have less pesticide residue:

Sweet Corn*, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, sweet peas frozen, papayas*, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit.

• The caveat, notes EWG: "A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce."