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Blueberries, beloved by nutritionists for their anti-inflammatory properties, have joined fiber-rich green beans in this year’s Dirty Dozen of nonorganic produce with the most pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental health organization.
In the 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, researchers analyzed testing data on 46,569 samples of 46 fruits and vegetables conducted by the US Department of Agriculture. Each year, a rotating list of produce is tested by USDA staffers who wash, peel or scrub fruits and vegetables as consumers would before the food is examined for 251 different pesticides.
What’s on the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list
As in 2022, strawberries and spinach continued to hold the top two spots on the Dirty Dozen, followed by three greens — kale, collard and mustard. Listed next were peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, grapes, bell and hot peppers, and cherries. Blueberries and green beans were 11th and 12th on the list.
A total of 210 pesticides were found on the 12 foods, the report said. Kale, collard and mustard greens contained the largest number of different pesticides — 103 types — followed by hot and bell peppers at 101.
Dirty Dozen 2023
2023 Dirty Dozen (most to least contaminated)
“Some of the USDA’s tests show traces of pesticides long since banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. Much stricter federal regulation and oversight of these chemicals is needed,” the report said.
“Pesticides are toxic by design,” said Jane Houlihan, former senior vice president of research for EWG. She was not involved in the report.
“They are intended to harm living organisms, and this inherent toxicity has implications for children’s health, including potential risk for hormone dysfunction, cancer, and harm to the developing brain and nervous system,” said Houlihan, who is now research director for Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, an organization dedicated to reducing babies’ exposures to neurotoxic chemicals.
What are the ‘Clean 15’ fruits and vegetables
There is good news, though. Concerned consumers can consider choosing conventionally grown vegetables and fruits from the EWG’s Clean 15, a list of crops that tested lowest in pesticides, the report said. Nearly 65% of the foods on the list had no detectable levels of pesticide.
2023 Clean 15
2023 Clean 15 (least to most contaminated)
Avocados topped 2023’s list of least contaminated produce again this year, followed by sweet corn in second place. Pineapple, onions and papaya, frozen sweet peas, asparagus, honeydew melon, kiwi, cabbage, mushrooms, mangoes, sweet potatoes, watermelon, and carrots made up the rest of the list.
Being exposed to a variety of foods without pesticides is especially important during pregnancy and throughout childhood, experts say. Developing children need the combined nutrients but are also harder hit by contaminants such as pesticides.
“Pesticide exposure during pregnancy may lead to an increased risk of birth defects, low birth weight, and fetal death,” the American Academy of Pediatrics noted. “Exposure in childhood has been linked to attention and learning problems, as well as cancer.”
The AAP suggests parents and caregivers consult the shopper’s guide if they are concerned about their child’s exposure to pesticides.
Houlihan, director of Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, agreed: “Every choice to reduce pesticides in the diet is a good choice for a child.”
Green beans had 84 different pesticides
Nearly 90% of blueberry and green bean samples had concerning findings, the report said.