Pesticides In Foods – A Quick Guide to Cleaner Eating

We can’t always afford to eat completely organically, and even if we can, we sometimes can’t get the variety of foods necessary to give us optimum nutrition. So how can we eat more cleanly, and potentially more safely, without busting the budget or missing out on vital nutrients? With the help of figures from the USDA, FDA  and the US Environmental Working Group*, below is a listing of the most and least contaminated fruits and vegetables. This list includes both domestically grown and imported produce. The figures are based on measurable pesticides in the eaten portion of the foods studied (i.e. after washing and peeling). Additionally, there is also a short list of other staple foods that are good to buy organic.

There will inevitably be differences between the way pesticides and other chemicals are used in the US and the UK, but due to in the natural susceptibility of the same crops being subject to pests and diseases, this US-based listing may act as a guide. The US also grows many foods that we in the UK cannot, principally citrus and tropical fruits, and will have more stringent domestic pesticide and agricultural chemical guidelines than some countries from which the UK imports. Even so, it is important to bear in mind that it is important to eat a sensible, balanced diet, whether organic or not: conventionally and organically grown/reared foods have to meet the same strict food safety regulations. For plant foods especially, the phytochemical ‘anticancer’ properties are overwhelmingly more beneficial than the pesticides may be harmful.

Dirtiest (most contaminated fruits and vegetables) – 2012 results

Apple (most-fruit), Peaches, Strawberries, Nectarines (imported)

Grapes, Blueberries

Celery(most-vegetable), Sweet Red Peppers, Spinach, Lettuce

Cucumbers, Potatoes, Green Beans+, Kale+
(+ may contain pesticides of special concern)

Cleanest (least contaminated fruits and vegetables) – 2012 results

Pineapple (least-fruit), Avocadoes, Mango, Kiwi, Cantaloupe (domestic),

Grapefruit, Watermelon

Onions (least-vegetable), Sweetcorn, Cabbage, Peas, Asparagus, 

Eggplant (Aubergine), Sweet potatoes, Mushrooms

The UK Pesticides Residue Committee doesn’t organise their data in as user-friendly a fashion, but here is a link to their latest quarterly reporting on testing of commonly consumed foods. Of particular interest is the Appendix of Results, where they list the number of samples for each food tested and give the number of these samples with multiple residues. Pears, apples and grapes had the highest incidence of multiple residue, while  spinach and spring onions had the least. Spinach is one of the US ‘Dirty Dozen.”

Good To Go Organic – below are some commonly consumed products that tend to have higher levels of agricultural chemicals than the organic equivalent. But again, the levels fall well within our strict food safety limits.
Meat and Poultry – aside from considerations about antibiotic residue, pork, beef and chicken skin (less so in meat itself) can be contaminated with pesticides and fertilisers used to grow the animals’ feed and on the grazing land itself.

Milk and Dairy Products – there can be higher levels of pesticides and other man-made chemicals found in conventionally reared dairy cows. Milk tested in the UK does not routinely show any traces of pesticides.

Coffee and Rice – these staple items come from countries with fewer restrictions on the use of agricultural and processing chemicals.
Lastly, these authors offer thoughtful and insightful advice on the food issues we face today: Hattie Ellis (great new book, What To Eat?), Joanna Blythman, Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle.
And, lastly here is a sweet video of an American schoolgirl’s organic versus non-organic experiment using sweet potatoes. Quite interesting. This short, naive video has caused quite a stir.
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5 thoughts on “Pesticides In Foods – A Quick Guide to Cleaner Eating

  1. Fascinating information – I’ve been looking for this for ages! I’m researching best diet for dementia (my mum) and found you via googling re Michael Moseley’s BBC Horizon prog and the Genesis Intermittent Diet (5:2 diet). Great blog. Thank you.

      • Unfortunately caffeine is a no no for her as she can’t tolerate it well. Dementia meds cause probs with digestive tract so must avoid all other stimulants. She was on decaf for many years pre-diagnosis too – so that’s interesting. Will google it. Thanks.

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