The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen
The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual list of the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue levels (dirty dozen), along with a list of the cleanest fruits and vegetables (clean fifteen) that contain little to no pesticides for that specific year. The EWG has estimated that consumers can reduce their exposure to toxic pesticides by 80% just by buying these 12 foods organic.

It is important to avoid pesticides because they pose serious health risks, especially to children and adults with health concerns. Pesticide exposure has been shown to cause neurological health effects such as memory loss, loss of coordination, and reduced visual ability; among others. Other health effects include hormone disruption, asthma, allergies, hypersensitivity, and an increased risk of cancer.

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Keep in mind that even after being washed or peeled, pesticides were still present on fruits and vegetables tested by the USDA.

Dirty Dozen

These foods should always be bought organic due to the high levels of pesticides they contain.

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap Peas (Imported)
  • Potatoes

Additionally, the EWG found that leafy greens (kale and collard greens) and hot peppers were often found to be contaminated with highly toxic insecticides that can damage the nervous system. If you frequently consume these foods, it’s best you buy them organic.

Significant findings from EWG:

  • At least one pesticide residue was found in 98 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines
  • More pesticides were found in an average potato by weight than in any other produce
  • 15 pesticides were found in a single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample
  • 13 different pesticides were detected in single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries

Clean Fifteen

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangos
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Potatoes

Significant findings from EWG:

  • Avocados were the cleanest, with only 1 percent of samples showing any pesticide residue
  • 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mangos and 61  percent of cantaloupe had no pesticide residues
  • Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples contained multiple pesticides
  • No single Clean Fifteen fruit sample was found to contain more than 4 types of pesticides


Not everyone can afford to buy all their food organic, but these lists definitely help people prioritize the foods that should always be bough organic.

As part of safe food handling practices, fresh fruits and vegetables should always be thoroughly washed.

If you are the owner or an employee at a food establishment, it is expected of you to get certified in safe food handling. Ken Kuscher provides food safety certifications at an affordable price with same day completion of classes and exams, so that you don’t have to take too much time out of your busy schedule. Some of the services Ken Kuscher provides are Florida Food Manager Certification, Florida Food Handler Certificates, Food Handlers Card Florida, Florida ServSafe Food Manager, and Food Certification Florida.