Latest ‘Dirty Dozen’ List Drops; Produce Industry Pipes up

Latest ‘Dirty Dozen’ List Drops; Produce Industry Pipes up

Spring time signals a fresh start. It also is about the same time when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” The annual report, which showcases a “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables reported to contain the most pesticide residues, is quick to make rounds in mainstream media. This year has been no different in that regard, along with strong reaction from the produce industry attempting to set the record straight. What is different in 2019 is the addition of kale to the “Dirty Dozen.”


When samples of the trendy vegetable were tested for the 2019 report, according to EWG, more than 92% had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues.

A passage from EWG’s “2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” report reads as follows: “Overall, the USDA found 225 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on popular fruits and vegetables Americans eat every day. Before testing, all produce was washed and peeled, just as people would prepare food for themselves, which shows that simple washing does not remove all pesticides.”

EWG states that its Shopper’s Guide is designed to help consumers reduce pesticide exposures as much as possible “by indicating which produce to buy organic, and which conventional products are low in pesticide residue.”

The U.S. Apple Association (USApple) is calling out EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list as misleading. USApple has been active in this debate for years. “With so much diet and wellness advice out there, it’s hard to know whom to trust,” said Jim Bair, USApple President and CEO, in a prepared news release. “But when activists with an agenda tell us to eat less of wholesome foods like apples, and not more, it not only sounds wrong, it is wrong.”

USApple urges concerned consumers to reference the Safe Fruits and Veggies pesticide calculator and follow the advice of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, who all say eat more fruits and vegetables.

“USApple’s consumer education efforts focus on science-based reasons to eat more wholesome foods like apples – not less,” Bair concluded.

The Alliance for Food and Farming also responded in kind to the latest dishing of the “Dirty Dozen.” A blog post titled “Facts About the ‘Dirty Dozen’ List,” puts factors like methodology, organic standards, and consumption under the microscope: “If you are concerned about residues on kale, you would have to eat a lot more each day to see any health effects. A man would have to eat 26,061 servings in a day, a woman 18,615 servings, a teenager 14,892 servings, and a child 7,746 servings in a day and they still would not have any health effects from residues …”

On the flip side, EWG also shines a light on what it calls the “Clean Fifteen,” items that tested low in concentrations of pesticide residues. Here’s a sampling of what was found:

  • Less than 1% of avocados and sweet corn samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • More than 70% of “Clean Fifteen” fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.
  • With the exception of cabbage, all other produce on the “Clean Fifteen” tested positive for less than four pesticides.
  • Only 6% of “Clean Fifteen” fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.

Click here to scan EWG’s 2019 “Clean Fifteen.”

Greg Sears, VP and GM, Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry, and Food at PerkinElmer, says reports like the “Dirty Dozen” keep everyone on their toes. “Pesticide analysis is a critical part of today’s food ecosystem because it ensures the food, nutraceuticals, and botanicals we consume are within regulatory limits.”

Scroll the slideshow above for a rundown of EWG’s 2019 “Dirty Dozen.”