Strawberry, Spinach, Kale Are Most Pesticide-Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables

A package of baby kale is seen at a farm in Newark New Jersey on Feb. 19 2019

As in the past, this year EWG has expanded the Dirty Dozen list to highlight hot peppers, which do not meet our traditional ranking criteria but were found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.

The group also released a Clean Fifteen list of produce with the lowest levels of pesticide residue, including avocados, sweet corn, pineapple and frozen sweet peas. "More than 70 percent of "clean 15" fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues", said the report.

Analysis of recent data showed that 70% of this produce sold for consumption contained pesticide residues.

What is so surprising about kale being number three on the Dirty Dozen list? The most common pesticide detected was Dacthal, also known as DCPA, which was classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1995 as a possible human carcinogen and banned in the European Union in 2009.

Additionally, recent EWG-commissioned tests of kale from grocery stores found that on two of eight samples, Dacthal residues "were comparable to the average level reported by the USDA". Europe has prohibited its use since 2009.

Even as kale's popularity surged, it hasn't been included in the USDA's regular produce tests since 2009, when it ranked eighth on EWG's list, according to the group, which found pesticide residues on almost 70 percent of conventionally grown produce in the U.S. "No list needed", said Thorne of the Alliance for Food and Farming.

The American Academy of Pediatricians Council on Environmental Health advises limiting exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and in early childhood as much as possible to curb the risk of neurological disorders, leukemia, and other diseases that the chemicals have been linked to.

USDA's tests found a total of 225 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on popular fruits and vegetables Americans eat every day.

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While she is encouraged that the USDA and FDA conduct such testing for pesticides, she and others at EWG hope more people become educated about the prevalence of pesticide residue on their food, and the potential dangers of exposure to these chemicals.

"The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure", Burns said.

Because the items on the clean list have low pesticide residue, shoppers can buy standard items, while organic might be a better option for produce on the dirty dozen list. DCPA was the most commonly-found pesticide in US produce.

In order of pesticide concentration, 2019's Dirty Dozen list is: strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

"We definitely acknowledge and support that everybody should be eating healthy fruits and vegetables as part of their diet regardless of if they're conventional or organic", Temkin told the Guardian.

However, strawberries were the worst offenders, with nearly all of the samples - 99 percent - found to have residue of at least one pesticide. According to the government tests, fewer than 1% of avocados and sweet corn samples contained pesticide residue.

The report is based on more than 40,900 fruit and vegetable samples tested by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables.

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