It's that time of year when farmers markets are starting to crop up and we can look forward to succulent strawberries, tender asparagus, and delicate greens.  Produce will soon be plentiful, inexpensive and at its peak.

When buying produce I always encourage people to buy organic, simply because eating produce without pesticides reduces your risk of getting cancer and other diseases.  In addition, organic growers put less stress on the soil and overall environment.   However, high prices and lack of availability conspire to make many organic products out of reach for some consumers.

Given these limitations, The Environmental Working Group created two lists to make it easy for consumers to know when it is imperative to buy organic and when it is not. 

The Dirty Dozen

This list includes the 12 foods with the highest pesticide residue after being washed, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The fruits and vegetables on this list, when conventionally grown, tested positive for between 47 and 67 different chemicals.  This means you should either buy organic or buy something else.  The Dirty Dozen list includes:


  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach, kale and collard greens
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet bell peppers

The Clean Fifteen

These fruits and vegetables tested negative or extremely low for pesticide residue by the USDA.  Buying organic is still a better option (better for the earth, air and sea), but if you can’t buy organic at least you can buy conventionally grown varieties of these fruits and vegetables without the risk of ingesting a chemical cocktail.  The Clean Fifteen includes:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Mango
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon

Consult these lists whenever you shop for produce so you can make the best choices for both your health and your wallet.  Bon appetit!