Environmental group lists 'dirty' and 'clean' fruits, veggies

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If you're trying to eat clean, but are on a budget, and can't pay extra to go organic on everything, CentreSpring MD's Dr. Taz Bhatia says to check out the Environmental Working Group's "2018 Dirty Dozen" list.

The non-profit environmental group analyzed the most recent pesticide tests from 2015 and 2016 performed by the US Department of Agriculture to come up with its "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists.

Topping this year's Dirty Dozen list: strawberries.

"They've been a player before, but they're back," says Dr. Bhatia.  "It appears that we're using, in the industrial and farming practices, more pesticides on strawberries than we are on any other crop."

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says a third of strawberry samples analyzed by the USDA in 2016 contained at least 10 pesticide residues or breakdown products.

Spinach is number 2 on the list.

"Spinach was on the list before, but it's one of the dirtiest crops, which is a change," Bhatia says.  "They found a ton of new chemicals and pesticides, which were not there before. So, when we're trying to spend money on and not to spend money on, it's a good bet to buy organic spinach."

Other produce on the Dirty Dozen list include nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers.

So, what are the cleanest crops, the ones with little, if any, pesticide residue, according to USDA testing?

"On (top of) the clean list are avocados," Dr. Bhatia says.  "It's not, apparently, worth spending your money on organic avocados."

The EWG found less than 1 percent of avocados and sweet corn samples showed any detectable pesticides.

Other produce on the "Clean Fifteen" include sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, and asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower, and broccoli.

The group says few pesticides were picked up on these foods in USDA testing, and tests found low concentrations of pesticide residues when they were detected.

"So those are examples of things, maybe, where it's not worth buying 100 percent organic," Bhatia says.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it sets safe limits for pesticides and pesticide residues in and on conventionally-grown produce, based on current research.

If a grower exceeds those limits, the EPA says, crops can be seized.

The country's largest pediatricians group, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), says what most important is that children eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The AAP recommends washing and scrubbing produce with water before consuming it, and encourages parents to consult the Environmental Working Group's two lists if they are concerned about pesticides on produce.

To read the Environmental Working Group's report, go to ewg.org/foodnews

Below is a response to the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen":

Alliance for Food and Farming:  Newly Released Reports Show Organic and Conventional Produce is Safe, “Dirty Dozen” List Unsupportable

 According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sampling data, 99 percent of residues on fruits and vegetables, when present at all, are well below safety levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.  FDA sampling shows that 50 per of the foods sampled had no detectable residues at all. 

 “In light of today’s “dirty dozen” list release, both government reports are good news for consumers and show that the “list” author’s contentions about residues and “dirty” produce are unfounded, unsupportable and, in fact,  may be harming public health efforts to improve the diets of Americans,” says Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming.  Thorne says peer-reviewed research published in Nutrition Today shows that inaccurate statements regarding “high” residues associated with the annual “dirty dozen” release resulted in low income consumers stating they would be less likely to purchase any produce – organic or conventionally grown.

“For over two decades the authors of this list have inaccurately disparaged healthy and safe fruits and veggies to the detriment of consumers,” Thorne says.  “Since a farmer’s first consumer is his or her own family, providing safe and wholesome food is always their priority.  Consumers should be reassured by the farmers’ commitment to food safety and government reports that verify that safety year after year.”

Among the additional USDA/FDA findings:

  • Pesticide residues pose no risk of concern for infants and children.
  • The results provide consumers confidence that the products they buy for their families are safe and wholesome.

Further, a peer reviewed study found that EWG’s suggested substitution of organic forms of produce for conventional forms did not result in any decrease in risk because residues on conventional produce are so minute, if present at all. The same study states that EWG did not follow any established scientific procedures in developing their list.

There are decades of peer-reviewed nutrition studies which show the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies on health, Thorne explains. These studies were largely conducted using conventionally grown produce. Thorne adds that health experts universally agree that a plant rich diet is important for everyone, but especially for children, pregnant women or those wishing to become pregnant.

What I tell women routinely is all the data suggests you want to increase your intake (of fruits and vegetables) during pregnancy and for that matter before you even become pregnant to help optimize your chance of having a healthy child,” says Dr. Carl Keen, Professor of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis whose research focuses on the influence of  the maternal diet on the risk for pregnancy complications.

For those struggling with infertility, A 2018 study in human reproduction found females under 35 undergoing in vitro fertilization had a 65 percent to 68 percent increased chance of success with a stronger adherence to the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes eating lots of fruits and veggies each day.

Further illustrating how low pesticide residues are, if present at all, an analysis by a toxicologist with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program found that a child could literally eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues.  “For strawberries, a child could eat 181 servings or 1,448 strawberries in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues,” Thorne says.

For consumers who may still have concerns, they should simply wash their fruits and vegetables.  According to the FDA, you can reduce and often eliminate residues, if they are present at all, on fresh fruits and vegetables simply by washing.

To learn more about the safety of all fruits and vegetables visit safefruitsandveggies.com