The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Fruits and Veggies

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

One of my favorite nonprofit consumer watchdog organizations, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), just released its 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™—an important resource that you should be using to eat healthier and reduce your disease risk.

I’ll share the key updates in a minute. But first, if you’re not familiar with the EWG, I highly recommend taking some time to browse its website and the consumer guides put together by the scientists, policy experts, and lawyers who work there. They review government data, legal documents, and scientific studies, as well as conduct their own laboratory testing, to expose threats to public health and the environment. This particular report—the Pesticides in Produce guide—is based on their analysis of testing data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

2019 Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Food Lists

For the past several years, EWG has done a fantastic job helping consumers get smarter about the amount of pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables through its Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 food lists. These lists rank fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticide residue they contain after being washed and peeled, as consumers typically prepare them.

Here are this year’s results:

Dirty Dozen Foods (Most Contaminated)Clean 15 Foods (Least Contaminated)
1.      Strawberries1.      Avocados
2.      Spinach2.     Sweet Corn
3.      Kale3.      Pineapples
4.      Nectarines4.     Sweet Peas (frozen)
5.      Apples5.      Onions
6.     Grapes6.      Papayas
7.      Peaches7.      Eggplants
8.     Cherries8.      Asparagus
9.     Pears9.      Kiwis
10.  Tomatoes10.   Cabbages
11.  Celery11.   Cauliflower
12.  Potatoes12.   Cantaloupes
* Hot Peppers also noted for insecticide content13.   Broccoli
14.   Mushrooms
15.  Honeydew Melons

I was particularly happy to see that four of my top healing foods – avocados, onions, asparagus, cauliflower, and broccoli – made the clean list. However, kale, spinach and tomatoes came up on the dirty side of the chart, making it much more important to buy organic if those are part of your meal planning (which I hope they are!).

Some other highlights of note from this year’s report:

  • Almost 70 percent of the conventional produce samples contained at least one pesticide.
  • More than 90 percent of the spinach, kale, strawberry, nectarine, cherries and apple samples tested positive for at least two pesticide residues.
  • Many kale samples showed 18 different residual pesticides, and more than 92 percent had 2+ pesticides
  • Kale and spinach, by weight, contain more pesticides than other fruit
  • Less than 1 percent of avocados and sweet corn tested contained a pesticide.

Some foods not on the list—leafy greens —were called out in EWG’s Dirty Dozen PLUS category. Highly hazardous pesticide residues were frequently found on these foods, and EWG recommends that you buy organic if you eat a lot of them. Alternatively, the group suggests cooking them, as pesticide levels are usually lower in cooked food.

You can read the report’s Executive Summary for more information about methodology and conclusions, and get the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists here.

What the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Foods Mean for Your Health

It’s simple: Use the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 to prioritize which fruits and veggies you absolutely must buy organic.

Generally, the best diet is a wholly organic one, and this is particularly true when it comes to produce. Organic fruits and vegetables—fruit, especially—not only have a lower pesticide load, but studies confirm they are higher in natural antioxidants, the compounds linked to reduced risk of many common diseases.

However, I also recognize that not everyone has access to organic foods or the cash to pay for them. If this is true for you, then use these lists to guide you on where to put the extra grocery dollars you do have, or on which foods you’d be best off avoiding altogether. Strawberry and apple lovers, for example, are wise to spend a little more for organic brands. But if avocados are your weakness, you’ll be fine with conventionally raised products.

Pesticide Residue: Why You Should Care

Pesticides are one of the great environmental threats to our health, particularly with the proliferation of genetically modified foods. Multiple cancers, as well as Parkinson’s disease, asthma, and birth defects have been linked with exposure to them.

I’ve consulted with patients over the years who lived in agricultural areas and who had acute reactions to pesticides. One was a woman who lived downwind from an apple orchard that was regularly sprayed; she developed severe fibromyalgia and cardiac arrhythmias.

I am so concerned about this issue that it’s even influenced my holiday gift-giving habits. In my family it’s a Christmas tradition to send boxes of fruit—usually pears or apples—as gifts to our far-flung friends. When I began learning about the pesticide content in produce, I began taking extra precaution and now do a thorough check of the fruit vendors to make doubly sure our gifts include only organic fruit.

Don’t sacrifice your health on this important topic, especially when there is such clear-cut guidance to help you. Print the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 food lists and use it as a guide every time you go shopping.


© 2016, 2018, 2019 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply


  1. PD Cleveland

    on September 15, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    All my life I thought I was allergic to strawberries. [e.g., tongue swelling, throat closing, etc.]
    Since OG strawberries have been more readily available I tried them and learned
    that I am not allergic to strawberries, but YES all the stuff on them.
    I now love strawberries and what they can do for me.

  2. Bessie Depine

    on April 18, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    THANKS so much for this valuable info. Keep up the good work

  3. Beverly Ann S.

    on June 21, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    I have been determined to do my best to buy & eat as many green leafy veggies, plus cauliflower, apples, broccoli, blueberries, strawberries, carrots & avocadoes. My budget determines which of the above I can afford to buy organic. Whenever there is a special markdown I also buy organic unsweetened almond and/or coconut milk. I look for organic zucchini & other squashes to make spiralized spaghetti. It tastes good plus it’s fun to make!

    Omitting all kinds of sugar type products has helped me to lose up to 52 pounds since October 2016. My cardiologist said I was a “miracle”! I told him that I personally watched my father & my brother die from complications of Type 2 diabetes which progressed to heart/kidney failure. The greens give me magnesium which I cannot supplement ’cause of my medications for HBP. The above foods have helped to slow my progression of pre-diabetes, lupus, Stage 3 kidney disease, Shorten, fatty liver disease, asthma, and lowered all extremely high cholesterol categories including triglycerides & C-reactive protein (8.3 to 3.3). I praise & thank God for His grace & mercy & for doctor’s like Dr. Sinatra, Dr. Richard Becker, Dr. Mercola’s & Dr. Josh Axe who all help to inform & warn about what can do & what we can avoid to help ourselves & be responsive to information received. My primary doctor took all the comprehensive blood tests in Oct. 2016 which painted the horrible picture of my poor health! Blood never lies!! I am also thankful to my internist & cardiologist. I realize that I am responsible for what I put in my mouth & the right choices have been beneficial but it is a new lifestyle that my life depends on it. I may not live longer but the quality of life has improved!

  4. Mary Charles Bentley

    on November 8, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    Thank you for all this Info

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