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What is The Dirty Dozen?

Updated on September 4, 2012

We all know that organic foods are ideal. Organics are grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides that may be harmful to the environment. Organic food is grown the old fashioned way, with seeds that are harvested traditionally and unaltered. Although the pesticides used in our food are regulated by the government, there are some that are so old that they have not been thoroughly tested. There are also concerns because widespread pesticide use leads to contaminated water and soil, resistance, and possibly related to the decline in several species of insects, including bees.

And then there is the fact that organic foods tends to be more nutritious than it's conventional counterpart. Whether it's bananas, oranges or pineapple, organically grown produce averages 25% more nutritive content than conventionally grown produce. Some people report that it tastes better, too.

Unfortunately, using sustainable farming practices instead of the more conventional, cost effective measures has it's price. When you grow plants without pesticides or herbicides or sewage water (Organic labels prohibit the use of toxic sewage sludge, coal waste or sewage water that may be contaminated with bacteria that lead to food borne ilness, like E Coli.) You ironically end up spending more time and effort per unit of items harvested. Less is always more. It's a rule of the universe, I suppose.

When you live on a tight budget, you can't always afford to live your ideals. Organic diets are great...but they can be pricey. That's why the Environmental Working Group, the EWG, came up with a list of the 12 foods most important to buy organic. These foods have the highest risk of contamination from pesticides in their conventional form.

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So, What IS the "Dirty Dozen"?

The "Dirty Dozen" are the 12 foods that test highest in pesticide residue after being washed according to studies done by the USDA and the FDA out of the 45 most popular produce offerings. The final score is based on both the number of pesticides found in the piece of produce and the amount of pesticide present. A full list of tested fruits and vegetables, along with their safety score, is available as a Shopper's Guide from EWG.

The dirty dozen will change every year. The EWG works hard to evaluate produce regularly and keep their information up to date. For the most current information, you'll need to visit their website. For 2012, the most important foods to buy organic (That is, the conventional produce most likely to be contaminated with high levels of questionable chemicals.) include lunchbox staples like apples, celery and strawberries. For the first time in 8 years, the list has been expanded to include conventional green beans and leafy greens such as kale, with the explanation that although neither food found it's way into the 'worst' category, both are frequently contaminated with an especially toxic organophosphate insecticide, which is a known neurotoxin.

Luckily, the EWG is well aware of the tough choices consumers need to make. While some of your kids' favorite foods might be on the dirty dozen list (and therefore limited in your budget), they have also prepared a list of 15 different foods that are generally free of pesticides even in their conventional form. These foods include pantry staples such as onions, cantaloupe and watermelon.

While we can't all live the organic lifestyle, we can all make one choice towards a better, healthier life. The Environmental Working Group is making that one choice a little easier with the list of cleanest foods, and those most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residue. Knowledge is power. Use it wisely.

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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the information and the useful link, msviolets. The Dirty Dozen Plus and Clean 15 lists are important for anyone who wants to follow a safe diet.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I always try to go organic and natural when it comes to foods. Those dirty dozen foods and others are toxic to our bodies and minds. Great post and so valuable to everyone. Voted up.

    • msviolets profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      It can be a constant struggle! But the Dirty Dozen list helps :-)

    • ptrg777 profile image


      6 years ago from New York

      Trying to get to the organic side of things myself.


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