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Fruits and Veggies with the Most Pesticide Contamination


For families around the country a great way to start living a healthier lifestyle is to avoid processed foods and eat more produce. Salads, fruits, vegetables, and natural foods contain minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that help fight disease and keep our body working properly.

However, due to the way farms grow and harvest produce many fruits and vegetables contain a concerning amount of pesticides. How can the average consumer know when produce at their local grocery store has an elevated amount of these chemicals, and the amount is negligible and perfectly safe?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit whose work we frequently cite at Pelican Water, conducts a yearly test to determine when to buy organic and when produce is generally safe. Check out their 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to read the full report.

Fruits and Veggies With High Levels of Pesticide

Popular produce items like strawberries, kale, and spinach top the list for the highest pesticide contamination. Some surprising findings from the EWG include:

  • Multiple samples of kale contained 18 different pesticides. According to the report, 90 percent of kale samples contained some kind of pesticide residue. “Despite its popularity, kale hasn’t been tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in about a decade,” noted Carla Burns, MS, an EWG research analyst.

  • Topping the list, conventionally grown strawberries contained an average of 7.8 separate pesticides per sample. The worst strawberry sample tested positive for 23 pesticides.

  • The pesticide found most frequently was Dacthal, or DCPA. Found on 60 percent of kale samples tested, this pesticide has been linked as a possible carcinogen since 1995 and has been banned in Europe since 2009.

To read the full list of the “Dirty Dozen” produce items head over to the full report.

Relatively Safe Produce Items

It’s not all bad news — the EWG also identified fifteen fruits and vegetables that, on average, contained trace amounts of pesticides. These fruits and vegetables could and should be purchased even if they are conventionally grown. Produce deemed “clean”:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Eggplants
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwis
  • Cabbages
  • Cauliflower
  • Cantaloupes
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Honeydew melons

When peeled or husked these fifteen produce items typically have little or no pesticide residue.

Why Should I Avoid Pesticides?

Pesticides are compounds sprayed on plants to protect them from insects, diseases, mold, and other factors that would cause the crop to be inedible. While few long-term studies have been done on the full range of health effects associated with pesticide exposure, some definitive links exist.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cites an association between pesticide exposure and brain development risks as a reason why children should ingest pesticides as little as possible.  A 2018 study found a strong correlation between eating organic food and lowering your risk for developing many types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, skin, and prostate cancers.

How to Reduce Your Pesticide Exposure

The best way to lower your risk of consuming pesticides is to thoroughly wash all of your produce with filtered water before chopping it for salad or eating it as a snack. As the EWG report demonstrates you should buy organic when feasible, but you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by washing produce.

A comprehensive whole house water filter or a simple under sink water filter will treat the water you use every day for a variety of contaminants, and will ensure the water you use to wash your produce is as clean and fresh as possible. Filtering your water adds another layer of protection, preventing harmful chemicals from negatively impacting your family’s health.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter