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As a whole most people would agree it would be ideal for humans to avoid any exposure to pesticides or fertilizers at all. That’s part of what makes the annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ list so popular.

But since it’s impractical to feed an entire world organically, tradeoffs have been made. Science and government have worked in tandem to determine “generally safe” exposure levels to pesticides and fertilizers.

Casey Ison/Freshtography

Those residues are what the “Dirty Dozen” measures – and what drives the produce industry nuts.

Once again, strawberries are atop the list of the nation’s “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables in the Environmental Working Group annual study, which dates back to 2004. The nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental organization ranks pesticide contamination in 47 popular fruits and vegetables for its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

USDA says that the levels listed by the “Dirty Dozen” are well below the safety threshold for human consumption. Our friend Casey Ison from the photo and marketing agency Freshtography put together the above infographic (with research from the scientific website www.safefruitsandveggies.com) to show just how many servings of each entry on the list a child would have to eat to reach USDA thresholds.

Just Wash It Already…

Spinach is second on the “Dirty Dozen” list, followed by nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers (hot peppers were also added as a sort-of 13th item). Each of these foods tested positive for pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce. Almost 70% of all conventional grown fruits and vegetables showed some pesticide contamination.

On the flip side of the Dirty Dozen comes the “Clean 15”, fruits and vegetables that show little or not pesticide residue. Avocado, onions, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, sweet peas, eggplant, cauliflower, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes and honeydew all make the list.

The shopper’s guide is based on results of tests by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration on more than 38,800 non-organic samples.

Scientists — including the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, a government-run scientific group — say fresh water alone is enough to clean produce with a minimum of 30 seconds rinsing before use. And a recent study from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, suggests that soaking produce in a solution of baking soda and water is an even more effective way to clean fruits and vegetables.

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