When I was growing up, finding healthy and organic foods wasn’t as easy as it is today. Today you can find organic milk and minimally processed meats at nearly any grocery store. You can find locally grown or prepared foods at a number of venues in your area. The shopping and basic sourcing for such foods has gotten much easier. So instead of “where do I find it?” the biggest stumbling block for most people today has become “where do I start?” Let’s dig in.
Not that long ago the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit and non-partisan health and environmental research organization, put out a list it called the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” To create the guide, the EWG compiled and analyzed the results from over forty-three thousand tests that the USDA and FDA conducted between 2000 and 2004 to detect pesticide levels on and in common fruits and vegetables. From this data the EWG listed forty-four different fruits and vegetables (grapes were listed twice because they studied both domestic and imported) and ranked them according to which had the highest or lowest “pesticide load” when tested in the edible form. In other words, an apple was washed before being tested; a banana was peeled, etc.
The EWG’s reason for their analysis of the government collected data, and their ensuing “shopper’s guide” was two-fold.
First, they believed that pesticides and other chemicals could have a harmful affect on people. Second, they wanted to give shoppers an easy reference guide for avoiding pesticides in everyday fruits and vegetables. According to an EWG simulation, people can lower their pesticide exposure by nearly ninety-percent (fourteen pesticide exposures per day) by avoiding the produce items from their “dirty dozen” list.
The result has become an often-referenced list of the twelve cleanest and twelve dirtiest (the “dirty dozen”) fruits and vegetables. The list is an excellent starting point for people wondering which produce to begin with when integrating in organic. This is not to say that you should never eat the items on the dirty list, only that they tend to be higher in pesticide residues, so if you’re looking to lessen your exposure, these should be the fruits and vegetables where you try to buy organics first. And that perhaps the items on the “clean” list are ones where conventional is a little safer, and an opportunity to save money by forgoing the organically farmed varieties for these few items.