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":