The Most Pesticide Laden Produce of 2017

A spike in fungicide use catapults pears to the top 12 for the first time ever.

March 9, 2017
For the first time, pears make the EWG's Dirty Dozen List

For the first time, conventional pears have made their way onto the Environmental Working Group’s list of the top 12 most pesticide-contaminated conventional produce, known as the Dirty Dozen.

The EWG’s analysis reveals that the amount of pesticide residues on pears more than doubled since 2010, from 0.6 parts per million to 1.3 parts per million. The pesticides present in the highest concentration were all fungicides, including Carbendazim, a chemical that is toxic to the male reproductive system and a suspected hormone disruptor, which was found on more than one-fourth of conventionally grown pear samples. (Here are 10 crazy things pesticides are doing to your body).  Fungicides are applied to control fungus and mold, and can be applied late in the growing season post-harvest to keep fruit from spoiling during storage.


For the second year in a row, the strawberry remains the most contaminated produce on grocery store shelves. It’s joined at the top of the list by spinach, which jumped to second place this year from eighth place in 2016. Since spinach was last tested eight years ago, according to the EWG, the number of and quantity of pesticide residues on conventionally grown spinach increased sharply, and now has more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested.

"We noticed relatively high concentrations of some new fungicides, as well an insecticide permethrin on spinach samples," says Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst.

Related: When Did We Start Using So Many Pesticides? 

The EWG bases its rankings on pesticide residue monitoring by the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pesticide Testing Program which looked at 48 types of conventional produce, analyzing thousands of produce samples. USDA researchers found that nearly 70 percent of samples of were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides, finding a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products. These traces remained on fruits and vegetables even after they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

"Washing reduces but doesn’t eliminate pesticides on produce," Lunder says "Pesticides can wash into the soil and be taken up by the roots into the plant itself."

None of this means you should stop eating fresh fruits and vegetables. "People should be reassured that fresh produce is overall a healthy choice," Lunder says. "We point out the difference in pesticide residues to help shopper’s prioritize which foods to buy organic."


To minimize your exposure, the EWG recommends opting for organic for those fruits and veg on the Dirty Dozen List when you can. (Of course, you can also grow your own: Here are growing guides for strawberriesspinachapplespears, peaches, cherries, grapescelerytomatoesbell pepperand potatoes.)

Related: Gardening For Beginners

Or focus your fruit-and-veggie intake instead on produce listed on the EWG’s Clean Fifteen list, which spotlights the least contaminated types of conventional fruit and veg. (Prefer to drink your fruit and veg? Here are the only 4 smoothie recipes you'll ever need.)

The EWG’s 2017 Dirty Dozen

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet bell peppers
  12. Potatoes

The EWG’s 2017 Clean Fifteen

  1. Sweet Corn
  2. Avocados
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Frozen Sweet Peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangos
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew Melon
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Grapefruit
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