EWG Reveals Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen List for 2024

An Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis found that 75% of non-organic produce has pesticide and fungicide residue even after scrubbing, washing, or peeling. However, a nutritionist Healthnews spoke with says consumers should not base nutritional decisions on EWG's fear-based messaging.

March is National Nutrition Month, and this year's theme is "Beyond the Table" to address farm-to-fork aspects of nutrition. This includes food production and distribution, navigating grocery stores and farmers markets, and home food safety and storage practices.

However, some aspects of nutrition, such as whether organic foods are safer than conventionally grown foods, continue to spark debate among nutrition experts, scientists, and the public. One such discussion surrounds the presence of pesticide residue on organic vs. non-organic produce.

To provide consumers with more information, the EWG, an independent non-profit organization, recently released its Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, including the 2024 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. These lists show which non-organic fruits and vegetables have the most and the least amount of pesticide residue.

The lists are the result of the non-profit group's analysis of the latest fruit and vegetable testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The analysis included data from 47,510 samples of 46 fruits and vegetables.

According to the EWG, 75% of non-organic produce and 95% of fruits and veggies on the Dirty Dozen list have residue from one or more pesticides.

Here's EWG's Dirty Dozen list for 2024:

1. Strawberries

2. Spinach

3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens

4. Grapes

5. Peaches

6. Pears

7. Nectarines

8. Apples

9. Bell and hot peppers

10. Cherries

11. Blueberries

12. Green beans

The EWG analysis shows that among these non-organic fruits and vegetables, four of the five most frequently detected chemicals were potentially harmful fungicides, including fludioxonil, pyraclostrobin, boscalid, and pyrimethanil.

The data analysis also found that over 90% of strawberry, apple, cherry, spinach, nectarine, and grape samples tested positive for two or more pesticide residues.

In addition, kale, collard, and mustard greens had the most pesticides, with 103 individual chemicals found on these foods, followed by hot and bell peppers with 101 chemicals.

Moreover, 6% of green beans had residues of organophosphate insecticide acephate, a chemical prohibited from use on this crop in 2011.

Alexa Friedman, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG, tells Healthnews, "If you're concerned about your exposure to pesticides, EWG recommends choosing organic items from the Dirty Dozen whenever possible because food is the main way most people are exposed to pesticides."

However, some nutrition experts have a different perspective on EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.

Nichole Andrews, RDN, a registered dietitian specializing in oncology nutrition, tells Healthnews, "Contrary to popular belief, the pesticide residues found on fruits and vegetables, whether they're on The Dirty Dozen or The Clean Fifteen lists, pose no risk to consumer health."

Nichole Andrews RDN
Nichole Andrews, RDN

Andrews points out that scientific studies consistently show that pesticide residue levels found on produce are well below regulatory safety thresholds established by health agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Andrews says that by perpetuating misconceptions about pesticide residues, the lists inadvertently discourage people from including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in their diets despite overwhelming evidence of their health benefits.

The unintended consequences of these lists often lead to decreased consumption of safe fruits and vegetables, financial strain from unnecessary organic purchases, and ultimately, compromised health outcomes, particularly in terms of cancer risk reduction.

Nichole Andrews, RDN

Therefore, Andrews suggests it's essential to advocate for a balanced approach to produce consumption that prioritizes accessibility, affordability, and evidence-based dietary recommendations.

"Rather than succumbing to fear-inducing lists, consumers should focus on washing and preparing produce properly in addition to having enough each day," Andrews adds.

Conventionally grown produce with the least pesticide residue

Government testing data also showed which conventionally grown fruits and veggies have the least pesticide residue. The EWG incorporated these foods into their 2024 Clean Fifteen list. The non-profit says that nearly 65% of the fruit and vegetable samples had no detectable pesticide residues.

EWG's Clean Fifteen for 2024:

1. Carrots

2. Sweet potatoes

3. Mangoes

4. Mushrooms

5. Watermelon

6. Cabbage

7. Kiwi

8. Honeydew melon

9. Asparagus

10. Frozen sweet peas

11. Papaya

12. Onions

13. Pineapple

14. Sweet corn

15. Avocados

EWG recommends that consumers seeking fresh produce with low pesticide residues consider purchasing either organic or non-organic versions of produce from the list.

"We know organic produce is not accessible or affordable for everyone, so EWG's Shopper's Guide [including the Clean Fifteen] is designed to provide consumers with a variety of accessible options," Friedman explains.

Why do some produce have more pesticide residue?

Friedman says that the EWG only analyzes pesticide residue data on produce generated by government agencies, so the non-profit can only speculate why some fruits and vegetables have more pesticides than others.

"Possible reasons might include specific growing practices, the timing of pesticide application, or the season when a crop grows," Friedman explains. "And fungicides may be found in higher concentrations because they are frequently applied post-harvest, or closer to the time that crops make it to store shelves."

Washing fruits and vegetables does not remove pesticide residues

When government agencies test produce for pesticide residue, the items are prepared much like a consumer would do in their kitchen — the samples are washed and then peeled if needed before being tested.

Even after these steps, the agencies' tests still found traces of 254 pesticides in all fruits and vegetables tested – and 209 of these were on Dirty Dozen produce. Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis, washing a fruit or vegetable would not change its ranking in EWG's Shopper's Guide.

Alexa Friedman, Ph.D.

This suggests that washing or peeling produce is not enough to remove pesticides from most non-organic or conventionally grown produce.

While the EWG has not evaluated commercial produce washes for efficacy or potential toxicity, Freidman says, "We do recommend briefly washing produce under running water, which can reduce some pesticide residues and the risk of developing foodborne illnesses."

Organic does not mean produce is pesticide-free

"Organic" is a designation the USDA National Organic Program uses to certify that a food was produced without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetic engineering, or radiation.

However, Andrews tells Healthnews, "Organic farming also employs pesticides, and organic produce often contains detectable pesticide residues. Peer-reviewed studies show that substituting organic for conventional produce does not significantly reduce consumer risks due to similarly low residue levels."

While 2020 research found that pesticide residues on organic produce are five times lower than conventionally grown fruits and veggies, the study's authors suggest that residues are still present.

For example, of the 136 organic produce samples the researchers tested, four contained pesticides authorized for organic production, while 61 contained non-authorized pesticide residues. Moreover, more than one pesticide residue was found in 17% of the samples.

The scientists suggest that low levels of pesticide residues may result from environmental or cross-contamination. However, high residue concentrations could indicate that organic crops were subjected to illegal or misused pesticides.

Friedman tells Healthnews, "It's true that there are a handful of naturally derived and synthetic pesticides allowed for use in organic agriculture. But unlike the hundreds of synthetic pesticides allowed in conventional produce — many of which are banned in other countries — all pesticides allowed in organics are rigorously reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board, part of the Department of Agriculture."

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