10 Worst Non-Organic Foods

by Fred Decker

If you're concerned about pesticides in your diet, or more importantly in your children's diet, organic produce is an attractive proposition. Certified organic growers are barred from using artificial herbicides and pesticides, reducing the likelihood of toxic chemicals accumulating in your family's bodies. Unfortunately, organic produce can be significantly more expensive. Because of this, organizations like the Environmental Working Group publish lists of the most pesticide-laden produce, pinpointing the best options for your organic dollar.

EWG Rankings

The Environmental Working Group, or EWG, is a registered nonprofit research organization. Their projects include a national water-quality database, a cosmetics safety database and a food pesticides database. The pesticide database is generated from testing data recorded between 2000 and 2009 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. It covers 53 common fruits and vegetables, ranking them on the quantity and variety of pesticide residues found. The produce was washed or peeled, as appropriate, before testing. The EWG isolated the 12 worst produce items, terming them the "Dirty Dozen."

The Dirty Dozen

The most pesticide-laden fruits and berries were apples, strawberries, peaches and blueberries, as well as imported nectarines and grapes. If the latter pair are left off the list, the first four and six vegetables make up the 10 worst offenders among nonorganic produce. Among vegetables, the most pesticides were found in celery, spinach, potatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, and both kale and collards, which were grouped together. Like the fruits, these include some of the most popular supermarket produce items.

Pesticides and Produce Consumption

It's unsettling to think of toxic chemicals accumulating in your body, but don't lose sight of the larger perspective. Even among the worst produce choices the amounts of pesticide involved are very small, and the health benefits of eating more produce are significant. If you already eat the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables, don't stop because of pesticides. Inform yourself about your produce choices instead, and make intelligent decisions.

Coping Strategies

There are several ways to keep your consumption of produce high and your consumption of pesticides low. Consult the EWG's "Dirty Dozen" and its counterpart, the "Clean Fifteen," before you go shopping (See Resources). Opt for the cleanest conventional produce, and buy your apples or peaches from the organic aisle. Buy local produce whenever you can because produce shipped long distances is sprayed more heavily. Sign up for a weekly produce box from a local farmer. Better yet, plant a garden of your own. You'll be in control of your own food, and that's the best strategy of all.

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About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.