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The Dirty Dozen List: Foods to Buy Organic

Updated on June 28, 2012

Buy Organic and Buy Smart

With the release of the "new" Dirty Dozen List, we have a new selection of foods to buy organic whenever possible. Some produce here has made the cut many times, while other types are new faces on the list. While it's always a good idea to support certified organic growers, most of whom are small and many of whom live local to your grocery store or farmers market, the cost of doing so often proves prohibitive. Most of us have good intentions but just can't make the budget work.

This list presents an opportunity for us to do something right without breaking our budgets to do so. Use this list to stock your kitchen smart: with the very best and healthiest that nature has to offer.

The Dirty Dozen List

Apples top the dirty dozen list for carrying the most pesticides. Non-organic applesauce, apple juice, and apple pastries are notorious for containing pesticides as well.
Apples top the dirty dozen list for carrying the most pesticides. Non-organic applesauce, apple juice, and apple pastries are notorious for containing pesticides as well. | Source

1. Apples

Apples top the list this year, but the fruit is no stranger to the Dirty Dozen List. Because of the relative monoculture in apple farming, which makes apples particularly vulnerable to adapting bugs and blights, big growers rely on heavy pesticide sprays to keep the apples safe. The thin apple skin holds onto those heavy pesticides. Worse, these pesticides have a way of sneaking into things you might not expect, like applesauce. So when you buy organic foods, consider taking apples seriously. Buy everything organic that features apples as a primary ingredient.

Celery is a notorious carrier of pesticides.
Celery is a notorious carrier of pesticides. | Source

2. Celery

The problems with celery are these: it's unlike all the other members of the Dirty Dozen List, which makes it difficult for people to remember it, it has more than 60 pesticides, and you can't skin a celery to get rid of all that chemical nonsense. So, those who choose not to go organic on this vegetable will be getting a full dose of the bad stuff, from stem to stalk.

Organic strawberries tend to be smaller, sweeter, and redder.
Organic strawberries tend to be smaller, sweeter, and redder. | Source

3. Strawberries

Fungus is the bane of strawberries, and fungus requires heavy pesticide spraying to kill it. Farmers rely on pesticides to keep their crop safe, but unfortunately, most of those pesticides make their way to the grocery store on the berries. Certified organic growers tend to produce strawberries in smaller crops, using alternative methods to keep the fungus from the berries. The result is usually smaller, sweeter, redder strawberries.

Organic peaches make a delicious, pesticide-free treat on a warm summer day.
Organic peaches make a delicious, pesticide-free treat on a warm summer day. | Source

4. Peaches

Peaches, like apples, have skin highly-susceptible to pesticide retention. And like apples, peeling will reduce some of the exposure, but not without removing most of the nutrition, too. Peaches and apples have trade positions for the number one spot on the Dirty Dozen List in the past, so buyers should not skimp on going organic with this soft, sweet fruit.

Organic spinach is a cleaner choice for smoothies, sandwiches, and salads.
Organic spinach is a cleaner choice for smoothies, sandwiches, and salads. | Source

5. Spinach

It's hard to believe that this delicious, delicate leafy green has nearly 50 pesticides, but no other leafy green has as great a risk of bringing pesticides to your plate as spinach. Sadly, not even frozen spinach is safe. For those who love to add a little spinach to salads, dinner, smoothies, or sandwiches, they should add spinach to their organic shopping list, too.

Nectarines are one of the worst tree-fruit offenders on the Dirty Dozen List.
Nectarines are one of the worst tree-fruit offenders on the Dirty Dozen List. | Source

6. Nectarines (imported)

Domestically-grown nectarines don't score as high for pesticide contamination, but imported nectarines certainly do. In fact, imported nectarines are among the worst fruit offenders. In a pinch, buy domestic, but do be careful: even domestic nectarines can carry as many as 33 different pesticides.

Domestic, organic grapes are available in many groceries and farmers markets around the country.
Domestic, organic grapes are available in many groceries and farmers markets around the country. | Source

7. Grapes (imported)

The thin skin of grapes makes them no match for the variety of pesticide sprays they receive in the vineyard. And like apples and peaches, this contamination extends to everything made with inorganic grapes, including raisins. There's good news for grape lovers, however: organic, domestic grapes do not tend to cost much more in many parts of the country.

Bell peppers are one of the biggest offenders on the Dirty Dozen List, but luckily, certified organic growers tend to keep most regions well-supplied with organic peppers.
Bell peppers are one of the biggest offenders on the Dirty Dozen List, but luckily, certified organic growers tend to keep most regions well-supplied with organic peppers. | Source

8. Sweet Bell Peppers

Sweet bell peppers make the list for their high pesticide residue. Nearly 50 different types of pesticide show up on all the colors of these sweet peppers. Many certified organic growers produce bell peppers, however, and those buying organic should have no difficulty sourcing them in most parts of the country.

While potatoes may not always make the list, they aren't always far off from it. Skin your potatoes or go organic for a full serving of starchy nutrition.
While potatoes may not always make the list, they aren't always far off from it. Skin your potatoes or go organic for a full serving of starchy nutrition. | Source

9. Potatoes

Unfortunately, the great potato is also a great offender for carrying pesticides. The potato doesn't always make the Dirty Dozen List, but that hardly makes it safe. Most of the pesticides hide in the peel, however, which means that many products produced with potatoes, like frozen fries, will have much less contamination.

Blueberries often top the list for the dirtiest berries on the Dirty Dozen List.
Blueberries often top the list for the dirtiest berries on the Dirty Dozen List. | Source

10. Blueberries (domestic)

Blueberries are among the worst offenders on the market with more than 50 pesticides. Unfortunately, frozen blueberries retain only slightly less of the bad stuff. However, organic buyers should have no difficulty locating it in frozen and fresh organic form throughout the country.

Organic lettuce costs just a little more but makes for a much cleaner salad.
Organic lettuce costs just a little more but makes for a much cleaner salad. | Source

11. Lettuce

What makes lettuce such a dirty member of the Dirty Dozen List is both its thinness and high water content. As a result of these factors, contaminated lettuce will have no clean parts. Tip: organic lettuce may have a few harmless little garden bugs tucked within the leaves, so be sure to give it a thorough rinse before using. A lettuce spinner makes this chore simple and fast.

Kale is a hardy leafy green, but farmers have increased the number of pesticides used to keep away the bugs in the last few years.
Kale is a hardy leafy green, but farmers have increased the number of pesticides used to keep away the bugs in the last few years. | Source

12. Kale or Collard Greens

Kale (or "collard greens") doesn't always make the list because it is much hardier than lettuce or spinach and holds up better to pests. However, in recent years, farmers have increased pesticide usage. That increase has put kale on the Dirty Dozen List for yet another year for the second year in a row. As with lettuce, those buying organic kale should give it a good rinse before using.

Smart, Healthy Living

Buying organic produce doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, especially if we buy judiciously. By avoiding the worst offenders, we take leaps and bounds in removing pesticides from our diet. At the same time, we support certified organic growers, many of whom pursue sustainable, environmentally-conscious approaches to food production.


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    • Xenonlit profile image

      Xenonlit 6 years ago

      Great article! Sacramento just had a food rights film festival and I missed it! arrgh.

    • profile image

      Snohomishdeb 6 years ago

      I have resisted buying orgainic spinach and lettuce primarily because of the necessity of providing a really good rinse. After reading your good article, however, I think I'll finally invest in a lettuce spinner (I've resisted for 35 years...don't know why). Thanks for a push in the right direction!

    • theseattlegirl profile image
      Author

      theseattlegirl 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @ melbel: Thanks for reading! The trick is to use lukewarm water and a soft brush to scrub off the wax and dirt. I don't think the FDA technically approves, but you can also use a very light soap solution for stubborn wax. Just a drop or so of dish liquid in a cup or two of water does the trick. Personally, I use a very light solution of castile soap.

      Health food stores and some grocery stores also carry a solution you can use that dissolves wax and oils. :)

    • melbel profile image

      Melanie Shebel 6 years ago from Midwest USA

      Fantastic hub... per usual. :P Rated up and useful.

      Question: What's a good way to wash veggies? For example, cucumbers seems to have this like waxy grime on them, what can get that off? I know they sell veggie wash but it doesn't seem to work. On a slightly sick note, I tried using dish soap to clean the grime off, but it didn't work. :S

    • theseattlegirl profile image
      Author

      theseattlegirl 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Oh, now that is SCARY!

      I would love to grow some of my own but we just do not have any room to do so. The best I can do is hang some planters with herbs. Given the price of fresh organic herbs at the market, I count it a win. :)

      Good point about washing the produce, however. Organic produce may not have the pesticide gunk, but it still has plenty of dirt and grime all over it!

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 6 years ago from Texas

      Very nicely written article, and good information also. I have always tried to grow my own produce organically, and when doing so, I always have to wash the produce extra well. This year, I even ran across a black widow spider when cleaning the produce. Kind of scary!

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