What You Need to Know About The Dirty Dozen

No, the dirty dozen does NOT refer to your ex-partners. The dirty dozen is a list of the top pesticide-containing foods, according to the Environmental Working Group, or the EWQ. The EWQ singles out foods that are considered to be the 'dirtiest,' or that contain the most pesticide levels, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) records, thus persuading us all to buy these foods in their organic version. Despite this being a US initiative we still find similar agricultural practices occurring globally, especially when it comes to efficiently farming foods that are available pretty much everywhere in the world.

Behind the Scenes of the Dirty Dozen

Every year, the USDA tests more than 13,000 samples of commonly purchases foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, and drinking water. In 2004 alone, the USDA found 76 percent of fresh fruit and vegetables to be contaminated with pesticide levels. Of that 76 percent, approximately 40 percent had more than one pesticide present.

No more than 0.2 percent of the samples findings exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerable levels. The EWQ then takes this list and narrows it down to Dirty Dozen list, which takes into account pesticide load as well as how many different pesticides are present on a single piece of food.

The Dangers of Pesticides

What makes pesticides so dangerous that the EWQ makes an annual list of the dirtiest foods out there? Pesticides are dangerous to human health, particularly to children. Large amounts of organophosphate (OG) pesticides have been shown to cause neurological problems in children. Symptoms from excessive OG exposure can include paralysis, seizures, and tremors.

Furthermore, many of the foods that are most commonly consumed by children top the Dirty Dozen list every year. These foods include apples, apple juice, bananas, carrots, green beans, oranges, orange juice, peaches, pears, potatoes and tomatoes.

Why You Should Buy Organic

In addition to cutting down on the pesticide count, organic foods also get you more nutrients for your money. In fact, organic foods are higher in calcium by 63 percent, chromium by 78 percent, iron by 73 percent, magnesium by 118 percent, potassium by 125 percent, and zinc by 60 percent.

Not everyone can afford to buy all their groceries in the organic section. Let the Dirty Dozen be your guide to what you can’t afford to buy in the non-organic section.

The Dirty Dozen 2015

Without further ado, here is the list of the Dirty Dozen 2015:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Nectarines
  7. Peaches
  8. Potatoes
  9. Snap peas
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet bell peppers

It should be noted that the residue levels on the Dirty Dozen are detected after these foods were washed (Yuck!). Lucky for us, the EWQ also puts out a list of the Clean Fifteen, or a list of the foods containing the least amount of pesticide exposure.

If your budget is looking for a break from the prices of organic foods, this is the area to do it. Here’s the list:

The Clean Fifteen 2015

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen sweet peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papayas
  10. Kiwis
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet potatoes


Perfect world, we'd all eat organic food. But that's not realistic. Be aware of the Dirty Dozen and prioritise those as organic, seasonal purchases. You can be more carefree with the Clean Fifteen. 

About Heather

Heather is a believer in the healing power of food. She resides in the United States with her husband and their daughter, where she has...

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