The Most Pesticide-Laden Produce

You won't be questioning organic after reading this list.

June 26, 2013

Chemical Chaos

With the heat of summer comes a most remarkable bounty from Mother Nature: Fresh-from-the-farm potatoes to toss on the grill, juicy peaches bursting with flavor, and crunchy bell peppers to liven up salads. 


But there's a dark side to fresh local produce. Many of your favorite picks from the produce section or farmer's market are tainted with chemicals that aren't just toxic to garden pests and bees, but possibly to you, too. In fact, many weed- and bug-killing chemicals have been linked to serious diseases like childhood cancer, lupus, obesity, ADHD, and autism, among many others.

We can't veggie-wash our way out of this problem, either. Most United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) experiments looking at pesticide contamination in produce involve testing produce that's already been washed or peeled.

Looking at more than 28,000 samples taken by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) created a list of the most contaminated produce to highlight the overall pesticide loads of common fruits and veggies. See why sourcing organic produce is so important…

1. Apples


Around 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue, according to the 2013 EWG report. In fact, previous testing from the USDA Pesticide Data Program turned up seven known or possible carcinogens and 19 suspected hormone-disrupting chemicals in apple samples.


2. Strawberries


EWG rated strawberries as the second most contaminated fruit, basing its conclusion on government data. Still, if it's a choice between eating a conventional strawberry or processed, sugar- or fat-laden convenience foods, choose the berry—the antioxidants in even nonorganic versions outweigh the risks, EWG notes. To cut your chemical load, choose organic whenever possible.

Grow Your Own: Strawberries


3. Grapes


Grapes are notorious for pesticide contamination. In fact, the EWG report found a single grape tested positive for 15 different pesticides.

Read More: Best Grapes for Organic Growers


4. Celery


Past USDA Pesticide Data Program evaluations turned up 64 pesticide residues on this crunchy snack and soup stock staple. In the EWG report, a single celery sample tested positive for 13 different pesticides.


Learn More: Grow Your Own Celery


5. Peaches


Pit fruits are notoriously hard to grow organically because the high sugar content attracts not just people, but also bug pests. Past USDA tests found 62 different pesticide residues on samples.

Seasonal Goodness: Peach and Raspberry Crostata


6. Spinach


Even these statistics would make Popeye cringe: Past USDA testing has found residues of eight known or probable carcinogens and eight neurotoxins; 23 were considered toxic to honeybees, too.

Try this: Spinach and Goat Cheese-Stuffed Baked Potatoes


7. Sweet Bell Peppers


A single bell pepper tested positive for 13 different pesticide residues, according to the recent EWG report. Previous testing shows imidacloprid, a chemical bug killer in the neonicitinoid family, turned up on nearly 80 percent of sweet bell peppers tested. Emerging studies link neonicitinoids insecticides to massive honeybee die-offs.

Grow Your Own: Bell Peppers


8. Nectarines


Every single sample of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides. If you're aiming to avoid chemicals in fruit, don't totally rely on U.S.-grown nectarines, either. Domestic nonorganic versions were commonly contaminated, too.


9. Cucumbers


Traditionally, toxic endosulfan, a chemical in the DDT family, has been a go-to pesticide for many commercial cucumber growers. Luckily, the government is phasing out its use for all crops because it's a potent neurotoxin. Still, cucumbers today have a heavy pesticide load, according to EWG. Choose organic when you can.


Easy & Awesome: DIY Refrigerator Pickles


10. Potatoes


Potatoes are hammered with chemicals. The average potato has a much higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop. Nonorganic versions of the starchy staple are generally sprayed multiple times a year in the field then their vines are sprayed with an herbicide just prior to harvesting to make the process easier.

Keep Reading: 7 Ways to Plant Potatoes