Summertime is the height of fruit season. At no other time of year can you get fruit that tastes as juicy and sweet as it does right now. The only problem? Most of it has been soaked in pesticides. Fruit is notoriously difficult to grow organically and without pesticides, says Jeff Moyer, farm director at the Rodale Institute, an organic research institution. “Fruit is colorful and high in sugar content,” he adds. “We all, many insects included, love sugar.” Because most fruits have soft skins, the pesticides that are used to kill those bugs (and the molds and fungi that also love fruit) get into the flesh and into your mouth, and no amount of peeling or washing can remove them.
Each year, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes data from the USDA's Pesticide Data Monitoring Program and issues a list of the most and least pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. Following are the fruits you should always buy organic because of the high levels of pesticides found on—and in—them. Of course, “if your choice is between a chocolate doughnut and a conventionally grown peach, the peach should be the obvious pick,” says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at EWG.
More pesticides are used on grapes than on any other fruit. Combined, the various samples of grapes used in the 2012 EWG report contained 64 different pesticides.
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A single sample of strawberries tested by the USDA contained 13 different pesticides.
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The most common pesticide found on plums imported from abroad (most commonly from Chile) is iprodione, which the EPA has dubbed a “likely” carcinogen.
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In EWG’s analysis, 92 percent of the pear samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue, while 26 percent were tainted with five or more pesticides.
Many of the pesticides used on peaches are systemic. They’re sprayed on a tree before it bears fruit, but the chemicals wind up getting into the fruit as it grows, and there’s no way to remove them.
Every sample of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticide residues, the USDA found, and the average imported nectarine contained more pesticides by weight than any other food. Domestically grown nectarines didn’t fare much better. They contained the same range of pesticides, but at lower levels.
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One of the most commonly used pesticides on cherries, carbaryl, is suspected of causing cancer and may lead to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and to birth defects.
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More than 40 different pesticides were found on blueberries grown in the United States.
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Cancer causers, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins have all been detected on apples, 98 percent of which test positive for pesticides. Because they’re so popular and are eaten daily by so many people, apples earned the top spot on EWG’s list of foods you should always buy organic.
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