The Dirty Dozen. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? We hear that we should buy organic. Then it doesn’t matter. Then a new study shows something, well, new. What should we believe?

If you’re buying organic foods purely for the health benefits, let it be known that it might not always be the case (read our article on that here).

But farmers are continually using pesticides and herbicides to keep our produce pest-free. And although this is easier for the farmer, it isn’t always healthier for us.

Pesticides are linked to killing organisms, sure, but they also lead to serious health problems in people.

Lucky for us, each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) annually ranks a bevy of the most common fruits and vegetables found on grocery store shelves for their total pesticide load. The EWG analysts synthesize data collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. With these, their results include the final rankings of the total amount of pesticides people can consume safely.

The EWG highlighted the worst offenders, calling them the Dirty Dozen. This list includes the produce with the most pesticide residue. Conversely, they offer the Clean 15; you guessed it, the ones with the least damaging effects.

The guide is designed to  help consumers who are concerned about pesticides to make better choices among conventional produce. It doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy all organic; but instead, if you’re making your choices, then opt for these to be of the organic option.

The Dirty Dozengrapes The Dirty Dozen: what to buy organic

Here are the Dirty Dozen, the 2011 edition:

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

Clean 15

And for you not to worry too much, here are the ones you can keep conventional.

1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplants
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Apples moved up to the top spot this year; 92% of apples contained two or more pesticides.

“We think what’s happening to apples is more pesticides and fungicides are being applied after the harvest so the fruit can have a longer shelf life,” EWG analyst Sonya Lunder told USA today. “Pesticides might be in small amounts, but we don’t know what the subtle, long-term effects of many of these pesticides are yet.”

The pesticides were measured in six different ways to calculate overall scores:

  • Percentage of samples tested with detectable pesticides
  • Percentage of samples with two or more pesticides
  • Average number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • Average amount (level in parts per million) of all pesticides found
  • Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • Total number of pesticides found on the commodity

If your diet includes just five servings of fruits and vegetables from the Dirty Dozen, it means you could be getting about 14 different pesticides per day. The clean list would deliver less than 2.

What would you rather put in your body?