What foods should you buy organic?

What foods should you buy organic?

While I would always advocate buying organic produce (as it is better for us and for the environment), I know that for some people this is just not possible. To make the decision easier for us, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyse tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and release The Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce TM where it lists: 

1. Dirty Dozen TM :

  • These are the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues.

  • Always choose organic. 

2. Clean Fifteen TM:

  • Where few, if any residues were detected.
  • Ok to buy conventional produce. 

The EWG are a U.S. body whose aim to help people live healthier lives. They help to educate and empower consumers to make better, safer and more informed decisions about the products they buy and the companies they support. 

Both the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen help people make decisions on what produce they should buy organic especially when budgets are tight. We all want good health and vitality but knowing where to spend our hard earned cash is important. I believe that for animal products (meat, poultry, fish, cheese, butter, cream, etc), this should always be from free range, pasture raised, wild caught, organic sources....no excuses...this is for the health of the animal, the environment, and for us who consume these products because we are what we eat eats. When it comes to produce, I would always recommend choosing organic but for those on a tight budget, they can make sure they always buy organic produce listed in the Dirty Dozen and can buy conventional produce for the Clean 15. 

Pesticide residues are commonly found on conventionally grown produce which cannot be removed even after it has been washed and peeled. The USDA conducted tests on thousands of produce samples and found a ‘total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples analysed’1.  

The more chemicals we ingest means the harder our bodies have to work to clear them from our body. Eating conventional produce also means that some of the chemicals may be accumulating in our bodies and cause numerous health effects, e.g. on our hormones, fertility, markers for chronic disease and illnesses. There is also the combined effect of all these chemicals on our bodies. When pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc, get tested, they are often tested for efficacy and safety when used on their own. By what are the effects on us when they are used in conjunction with other pesticides? How does this look over time?  

The EWG has been ranking fresh produce based on their levels of pesticide contamination (number of pesticides and amount of each pesticide) since 2004. The results are compiled into their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce each year. The guide is meant to be a resource for consumers who cannot buy organic produce—for whatever reason. With this list, consumers can choose produce based on their possible presence of pesticide contamination. 

The following information was taken from the www.ewg.org website: 

The Dirty DozenTM: 

  • These foods were found to have higher levels of pesticides than other produce types tested. 

  • The foods include (in descending order): 

  • Strawberries 

  • Spinach 

  • Nectarines 

  • Apples 

  • Grapes 

  • Peaches 

  • Cherries 

  • Pears 

  • Tomatoes 

  • Celery 

  • Potatoes 

  • Sweet bell peppers 

  • More than 98 percent of the top four foods listed tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.  

  • A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. 

  • On average, spinach samples contained nearly double the amount of pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. 

  • Overall, close to 70 percent of conventional (not organic) fruits and vegetables had some level of pesticide residue. 

  • This year’s Dirty Dozen list also includes a 13th produce item--hot peppers*. 

  • EWG found that hot peppers tend to be contaminated with dangerous insecticides, so they suggest buying this item organic, or at least cook conventionally grown hot peppers to help reduce insecticide levels. 


The Clean FifteenTM: 

  • Includes produce least likely to contain pesticide residues  

  • Includes: 

  • Avocados 

  • Sweet corn 

  • Pineapples 

  • Cabbages 

  • Onions 

  • Frozen sweet peas 

  • Papayas 

  • Asparagus 

  • Mangoes 

  • Eggplants 

  • Honeydews 

  • Kiwis

  • Cantaloupes 

  • Cauliflower 

  • Broccoli 

  • No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen tested positive for more than 4 pesticides 

  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on the Clean Fifteen vegetables. 



While the EWG says that rinsing produce under tap water is a good way to reduce pesticide levels before consumption, research conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts shows that soaking produce in a baking soda and water solution may do an even better job at killing pesticides. There are a number of products on the market now that can be used when washing produce to help remove pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. 


In summary.....

  • Make an informed choice when buying produce for you and your family.
  • This testing was done in the US but the same applies to AU produce.
  • Vote with your dollar and support local organic farms. Farmers who care about the produce and the soil.
  • Remember, we are what we eat and we are what we eat eats.
  • Conventional produce may be cheaper than organic, but you get what you pay for and I know I don’t want to pay with my health later.
  • If money is an issue then buy organic for the Dirty Dozen and buy conventional for the Clean Fifteen.
  • Your aim is to reduce you chemical and pesticide exposure. 

For more information, send me a message. We should all be aiming for a healthy body and mind, and an environment that will support us and future generations.  

Let me know your thoughts below. 



  1. Lunder, S. (2018) EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Product TM   https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php 


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