The Environmental Working Group has finished crunching numbers from a government report and again says strawberries are at the top of the group’s Dirty Dozen list of fresh produce.

Every year the non-profit group takes a few weeks to review data compiled and released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture about pesticide levels found in fresh fruits and vegetables. The USDA report comes out at the end of the year and the EWG generally begins spring with its perspective on the data.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has trademarked its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. The Alliance for Food and Farming challenges the lists every year, saying they are junk science. The Alliance came out with its rebuttal of the EWG Dirty Dozen list back in December 2019 when the USDA released its annual pesticide residue report.

One thing the groups agree on is the government’s bottomline about pesticide residues on fresh fruits and vegetables — less than 1 percent of the commodities covered by the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program had levels above legal limits.

The key phrase is “legal limits,” which the EWG contends are too low in many cases.

“Nearly 70 percent of the fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides,” according to the EWG. 

“But legal limits aren’t always safe. The Environmental Protection Agency’s safety levels, called “tolerances,” help agency regulators determine whether farmers are applying pesticides properly. If tolerance levels were set to protect all children eating produce, as EWG believes they should be, more fruits and vegetables would fail to meet them.”

The EWG has been releasing an annual shoppers’ guide to fresh produce annually since 2004. It ranks the pesticide contamination of 47 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and is based “on the results of tests by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration of more than 43,000 samples of produce,” according to the EWG’s Dirty Dozen announcement.

A twist to this year’s report from the EWG is that most of the group’s statement doesn’t involve fresh produce. Rather, the organization is focused on a dried fruit this year: raisins.

Of the non-organic raisins tested by the USDA 99 percent had residues of at least two pesticides, as did 91 percent of organic raisins, according to the EWG statement.

“If we included raisins in our calculations, they would be number one on the Dirty Dozen,” said EWG toxicologist Thomas Galligan. “Although raisins are a popular snack, consumers concerned about their pesticide consumption may want to consider buying fresh or frozen produce from our Clean Fifteen list instead.”

This year the EWG’s dirty and clean lists are as follows:

Dirty Dozen

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples 
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

Clean 15

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas — frozen
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Kiwi

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