year, the Environmental Working Group releases guides to help shoppers pick fruits and vegetables with the fewest pesticide residues. Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center has now released similar guidelines. According to the organization’s survey conducted in November 2014, pesticide exposure in food is a concern for 85 percent of Americans. For its report released Thursday, Consumer Reports analyzed 12 years of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) to determine the number of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables, the frequency with which they were found, and the toxicity of the pesticides. They then placed each of the 48 foods into one of five risk categories ranging from very low to very high, based on the risk to a 3-year-old. The organization found that organic produce falls into the low- or very low-risk categories, so it advises consumers to choose organic fruits and vegetables when possible. In particular, Consumer Reports said that shoppers should always choose organic options for peaches, tangerines, nectarines, strawberries, cranberries, green beans, sweet bell peppers, hot peppers, sweet potatoes and carrots. “If organic produce is too pricey or not available, our analysis shows that you often have a low-risk conventional option” based on the country where it was grown, the guide stated. Bananas, cherries, oranges, broccoli, lettuce and onions were included among the very low- and low-risk conventionally grown produce Consumer Reports identified. PDP has consistently found that, “U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues” because nearly all residues identified are below the tolerance levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency. But Consumer Reports pointed out that multiple pesticides are often found on samples. The tolerance levels are set for individual pesticides, but the effects of these pesticide combinations are untested and unknown, the organization said. And a report released by the Government Accountability Office last November identified issues with residue testing conducted by USDA, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration. Some pesticides, including organophosphates, have been shown to be toxic at high levels, but GAO said that it’s difficult to associate the amount of pesticides used in farming with the risk to human health. “The overall use of pesticides in agricultural settings is not necessarily indicative of the risk associated with those pesticides,” the authors wrote. “We were unable to find publicly available estimates of the overall toxicity or risk associated with the use of agricultural pesticides in the United States.” Those concerned about pesticide residues on food frequently cite studies suggesting that the chemicals can negatively impact neurodevelopment and behavior in children. Ultimately, Consumer Reports warned that despite the risks posed by pesticide residues, eating fruits and vegetables is extremely important for your health. “Your primary goal is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables — ideally five or more servings a day — even if it’s a type that falls into our very high-risk category,” their guide read. Or, as Environmental Working Group has stated along with its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists, “eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables.” The new Consumer Reports guide also included a number of policy recommendations for the federal government. They called for EPA to ban or take immediate action on acephate, iprodione, fludioxonil, imazalil, oxamyl, methyl bromide, chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates. And EPA should also take immediate action on neonicotinoids because of their contribution to the decline of pollinators, complete the delisting of arsenical pesticides, improve the science behind tolerance limits, rein in emergency exemptions and conditional registrations, and require public access to all ingredients in pesticides, the organization said. In addition, Consumer Reports recommended that USDA expand pesticide residue testing in PDP and protect and promote organic standards, and that FDA should expand and improve its pesticide residue testing and enforcement.

  • Alliance for Food and Farming

    Readers show know how very minute residues are if present at all. In fact, residue levels are so low that a child could eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from residues (Use the calculator at safefruitsandveggies to learn more). And, just three weeks ago another group released a similar “what to buy/what not to buy” list with different fruits and veggies! How confusing is that. The best advice for consumers, which is supported by decades of nutritional research, is to eat more conventional and organic fruits and veggies for better health and a longer life. No need for conflicting and confusing lists.

    • LogicPolice

      AFF, what does conventional mean in this context? Whole, raw, domestic?

      • unopinionated reader

        Conventional means – farmed with the use of pestcides, in other words other than organic.

    • pawpaw

      From last month, see this FSN post, research that measures veggie choices vs. pesticide intake:

    • science guy

      WOW! So now we should all feel safe that there is absolutely no health effects from consuming pesticide residues because the AFF has stated that even a child can eat hundreds to thousands of pesticide containing fruits and veggies in a single day and not have any effects from those residues. Where is the scientific testing to support such an absurd statement? This completely contradicts the symbiotic effects which multiple residues on any food product presents and is incalculable because the scientific method only allows one to examine one variable in any test group (not chemical A + B + C ad infinitum). To attest to that very concern, the article states “effects of pesticide combinations are untested and unknown.” It is so easy for any body to say anything. Cough up the double blind, peer reviewed research if you expect people to accept your statements.

  • Kitsy WooWoo

    ““Your primary goal is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables —
    ideally five or more servings a day — even if it’s a type that falls
    into our very high-risk category,” their guide read.”

    Did the guide suggest a way to (attempt to) get rid of some of those pesticides? If not, why not? For example, would soaking apples or grapes in a large bowl of water mixed with apple cider vinegar for five or so minutes help at all?

  • dewluca

    I’m wondering what you make of the huge difference in the evaluation of sweet potatoes (which I eat huge quantities of)? The EWG has them in the “clean” group whereas CR says “only buy organic”. The price difference (at least where I live) is rather large, so can make a big difference to those of us on a budget. Any explanation for these different evaluations? Thanks for all your good work.

  • pawpaw

    At farmers markets, organic produce oft costs the same as other produce of like condition and quality, depending on the item. I know because am picking today and selling tomorrow AM. And we buy and eat produce from fellow farmers.

    Often left out of these discussions is farmworker exposure to pesticides, and their children. There are about 500 reported cases/yr of pesticide poisoning in Calif, likely under-reported.

    How we eat affects the people who grow it….do we value their safety?

  • john mark carter

    Consumer Reports should stick to testing kitchen appliances.

  • geo girl

    The EWG report was based on USDA testing which did not distinguish among different countries of origin. The Consumer Reports report was based on their own testing where they kept track of country of origin of the produce. Country of origin can make a huge difference, since laws vary for what can be used. In addition Consumer Reports rinsed and removed inedible peels before testing. It’s not clear if USDA did this.

  • geo girl

    correction: both EWG and Consumer Reports tests reflect residues on washed (and, where appropriate to how they are eaten) peeled produce.