Another look at the Dirty Dozen in terms of nutrition

Did you ever think that strawberries, spinach, and kale would be considered “filthy”? Or lush green vegetables, “repeat offenders”? That’s exactly how these extremely nutritious fruits and veggies are characterized in a recent piece in USA Today.

What’s the cause behind this shocking charge? A nonprofit organization called the Environmental Working Group has released their annual Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists that target what they believe are the most and least pesticide-contaminated non-organic fresh fruits and vegetables.

Not so fast, says the Alliance for Food and Farming (, another organization that represents both organic and conventional farmers. The organization believes the results made by the EWG are not backed by research and may unnecessarily scare consumers from eating perfectly safe and healthful food.

In reality, toxicologists (experts in the science of poisons) believe the same data used by the EWG actually shows us how extraordinarily safe our food is from the effects of pesticides.

In 2020, for example, the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program showed that almost 99 percent of the samples tested had residues well below the thresholds specified by the Environmental Protection Agency.

And 30 percent of the samples showed no detectable pesticide residue at all.That’s really astounding, given that technology can currently detect as little as one part in a billion.

Why do we need pesticides at all? They safeguard key food crops from disease-causing pests. Even organic farms use approved insecticides when needed.

As one expert noted, we should all endeavor to decrease the quantity of pesticides on the food we eat. But we don’t have to singularly avoid traditionally manufactured meals to achieve that goal.

If this sounds like a request to overlook the benefits of organically farmed foods, it’s not. It is simply to put the health advantages of all fruits and vegetables into perspective.

Decades of studies continue to indicate that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (both organically and conventionally cultivated) prevents several diseases, improves our mental capacities and immune function, and leads to a longer life.

So the point seems to be not so much whether a fruit or vegetable is farmed with the use of organic or conventional pesticides, but whether or not we are eating those fruits or vegetables. Even the EWG affirms that the health advantages of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables exceed the risks of pesticide exposure.

Bottom line: We should eat more vegetables and fruit. And we can safely choose produce that has been grown organically or conventionally. It’s been calculated, for example, that a woman could eat 774 servings of conventionally cultivated spinach and yet have no hazardous effects from pesticide residue.