The Dirty Dozen: Fruits and Vegetables Most Likely to be Covered in Pesticides

90 per cent of the produce on this list could cause health problems

Credit: TV Week

Produce with soft skin, like apples, tends to absorb more pesticides and fungicides

Which fruits and veggies on your shopping list are most likely to be contaminated by pesticides and fungicides?

It’s that time of year when we can indulge in our favourite fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this is also the time when the U.S. Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. 

Its lists include the fruits and vegetables — the so-called “Dirty Dozen” — that are most likely to be contaminated by pesticides or fungicides. The list hasn’t changed much from last year, with the usual suspects vying for various positions in the top 10.

According to the EWG, fruits and veggies with soft skins tend to absorb the most pesticides and are most likely to be eaten unpeeled. The researchers at Purdue University of Indiana found traces of pesticides on 90 per cent of the eight most popular fruits and vegetables. This year, apples, a staple in many households, take the top mark on the contaminated list:

The “Dirty Dozen”

  1. Apples
  2. Celery

  3. Strawberries

  4. Peaches

  5. Spinach

  6. Nectarines (imported)

  7. Grapes (imported)

  8. Sweet bell peppers

  9. Potatoes

  10. Blueberries (domestic)

  11. Lettuce

  12. Kale/collard greens

Pesticides have been linked to many health effects, from causing certain cancers to disrupting the action of hormones. Recent research has even linked them to ADHD in children, not to mention, of course, the impact these chemicals have on the environment.

The EWG has also released its list of “Clean 15,” produce which, in tests, showed the least traces of pesticides and fungicides:.

The “Clean 15”

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Avocados

  5. Asparagus

  6. Sweet peas

  7. Mangoes

  8. Eggplant

  9. Cantaloupe (domestic)

  10. Kiwi

  11. Cabbage

  12. Watermelon

  13. Sweet potatoes

  14. Grapefruit

  15. Mushrooms

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Pesticides

Washing and peeling fruits and veggies helps to reduce your exposure, but some pesticide residue can be absorbed into the food.

Trade groups representing the produce industry disagree with these studies saying farmers are meeting federal requirements set by government standards and in many cases their produce has no pesticide residue at all or they come in many times below the already stringent safety limits.

Still, all experts from the produce industry and the EWG agree that eating foods from the Dirty Dozen remains better than not eating fruits and veggies — or eating junk food instead.

If you’re concerned, estimates suggest that you can reduce your pesticide exposure by up to 80 per cent if you buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen. For more info and a list you can take with you to the grocery store, go to

Your Health with Dr. Rhonda Low airs weekdays during CTV News at Five and CTV News at Six.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.