Next time you’re at the supermarket debating whether to pay more for a pint of organic strawberries than you do for your lunch — or deciding if you should choose that wilted organic celery over the crisp green conventional stalks — you might want to refer to the Environmental Working Group’s new wallet-size Shoppers’ Guide. The not-for-profit group lists the “Dirty Dozen” (the 12 fruits and veggies that are the most contaminated with pesticides) and the “Cleanest 12? (those that generally have the lowest amounts of pesticides).
There have been some ratings revisions since the last Guide came out in October 2003. For instance, carrots are off the “bad” list now but lettuce is on it. Cauliflower has fallen from grace but cabbage has made the cut and is now on the “good list.” Here are the full lists.
The “Dirty Dozen” (starting with the worst) Remember this is only if you are buying not organic
sweet bell peppers
The “Cleanest 12″ (starting with the best)
sweet corn (frozen)
sweet peas (frozen)
To come up with its rankings, the Environmental Working Group looked at the results of close to 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A computer analysis by the EWG found that consumers could reduce their pesticide exposure by nearly 90 percent by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. People who eat the “Dirty Dozen” will be exposed to an average of 15 different pesticides per day, says Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, while eating from the “Cleanest 12? means you’ll be exposed to less than two pesticides per day. So if produce from the “Dirty Dozen” is on your menu, it makes sense from a health standpoint to choose organic.
Of course, health concerns aren’t the only reasons people choose organic foods. It takes an enormous amount of fuel to make synthetic fertilizers, explains Wiles. “Conventional agriculture is very energy inefficient,” he says.
On the other hand, costly and polluting fuel is required to transport both conventional and organic fruit and vegetables from farms to grocery stores — produce is often shipped to the U.S. from as far away as New Zealand. So does this mean you’re better off eating a locally grown nonorganic apple than an organic one from the other side of the world? Perhaps the solution, Wiles says, is to encourage local farmers to start growing organic crops. For example, begin by asking farmers whether they used pesticides on their apples, Wiles advises. “The more that local production can be moved toward organic, the better,” he says.Meanwhile, even if you can’t always afford or find organic produce, there are steps you can take to get rid of some of the pesticides on conventional produce. Since washing reduces pesticides by anywhere from one third to one half, thoroughly scrub and rinse everything, even produce that will be peeled. Then consider making yourself a pesticide-reduced dinner tonight.How does a menu of Guacamole, Tropical Fruit Salsa, and Cilantro-Lime Chicken Fajitas with Grilled Onions sound?
Sources: epicurious.com; ewg.org