Fruits And Vegetables Highest In Pesticide Residue – The Dirty Dozen

Fruits And Vegetables Highest In Pesticide Residue – The Dirty Dozen

Consuming fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy diet, but it is important to note that nearly 70% of fresh produce considered non-organic that is sold within the United States contains residue of potentially harmful chemical pesticides.

This information is based upon test data from the federal Department of Agriculture in the EWG analysis. These pesticides can remain on the produce even after washing, scrubbing, and peeling.

The following outlines the “Dirty Dozen” list for 2021 of the fruits and vegetables that have been found to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residue.

  • Apples

  • Bell/ Hot Peppers

  • Celery

  • Cherries

  • Grapes

  • Kale/ Collard/ Mustard Greens

  • Nectarines

  • Peaches

  • Pears

  • Spinach

  • Strawberries

  • Tomatoes

It should also be noted that many of the items on the Dirty Dozen list also contain harmful levels of pesticides in their frozen form as well (Environmental Working Group, 2021).

The Details

Peppers are known to contain high levels of acephate and chlorpyrifos- organophosphate insecticides that can impact brain development in children. These have been banned from usage on some U.S. crops and completely banned in the EU.

The pesticide most commonly found on greens is DCPA, which is the brand name Dacthal, according to the USDA. As classified by the EPA, DCPA is a possible human carcinogen and has been banned in the EU. Neonicotinoids and pyrethroids are other pesticides that can be found on greens.

A fungicide known as imazali was detected on nearly 90% of citrus samples tested by EWG in 2020, and more than 95% of tangerine samples tested by the USDA in 2019. This fungicide is known to alter hormone levels and has been identified by the EPA as a likely human carcinogen.

Acute and chronic toxicity of pesticides can lead to:

  • Skin irritation

  • Allergic reaction

  • Respiratory tract irritation

  • Visual and neural disturbances

  • Intestinal pain

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Muscle weakness

  • Fatigue, seizures

  • And disease such as cancer (Penn State, 2020)

Buying Organic – The Benefits

Shopping USDA organic, especially as it pertains to the fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list is a strong way to reduce exposure to and ingestion of pesticides.

Additionally, eating organic has been linked to several health benefits. An article published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients noted four individual clinical trials where individuals who switched from conventionally grown to organic foods saw a dramatic and rapid reduction in urinary pesticide concentrations.

Other studies have shown a link between higher organic food consumption and improved fertility/birth outcomes, reduced incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, decreased BMI, and lower risk of Type 2 diabetes (Environmental Working Group, 2021).

The outlined data highlights the importance of avoiding high pesticide fruits and vegetables in the diet as much as possible. Shopping organic is a valuable way to go about this and improve health and wellness outcomes. The risks of consuming pesticides can be detrimental, especially as they are continuously consumed overtime.

Acute and chronic toxicity of pesticides can lead to health impacts such as skin irritation, allergic reaction, respiratory tract irritation, visual and neural disturbances, intestinal pain, headache numbness, fever, muscle weakness, fatigue, seizures, and even disease

Thus, consuming organic fruit and produce can help minimize these risks and ensure you’re able to maintain a state of health and wellness.


Environmental Working Group. (2021). EWG’s 2020 shopper’s guide to pesticides in Produce™. EWG | Environmental Working Group.

Penn State. (2020, September 6). Potential health effects of pesticides. Penn State Extension.


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