Which Foods Have The Most Chemical Pesticides?

by heather

Image courtesy Wikepedia.org

Image courtesy Wikepedia.org

Did you know that sweet bell peppers have, on average, 11 different pesticides on their skin (source)? And, that’s after it’s been “washed” and put on grocery store shelves.


According to the Environment Working Group (EWG), we can lower our pesticide intake by 80% simply by avoiding 12 foods. Buying this “Dirty Dozen” in their organic form is a wonderful way for us to eat healthy and stop all those chemicals from entering our bodies.

And, EWG claims that this is even more important for children, who are at a much higher risk from pesticides because their bodies are still developing.

The Harmful Effects of Chemical Pesticides

Many people don’t give a second thought to pesticides. And I know…I come from a family of cotton and soybean farmers. In spite of my best efforts to convince them of the dangers, they don’t give pesticides a second thought. For them, pesticides are just part of their everyday life. Nothing to worry about.

But, pesticides are designed to kill living things. So, this is not something we should be putting into our bodies.

EWG has done several studies on pesticides. And you know what they’ve found? That when we eat non-organic food on a regular basis, we consume, on average, 10 different pesticides per day.

According to the Pesticide Action Network (PANNA), most Americans carry toxic pesticides in their bodies above levels deemed safe by the government.

In their research, they found that many of the pesticides we’re carrying in our bodies have been linked with some pretty series health issues, such as:

  • Birth Defects
  • Child and Adult Cancers
  • Infertility

And to contribute even more to your sleepless night tonight, here’s a scary excerpt from their study:

Chemical Trespass finds that children, women and Mexican Americans shoulder the heaviest “pesticide body burden.”

For example, children-the population most vulnerable to pesticides-are exposed to the highest levels of nerve-damaging organophosphorous (OP) pesticides. The CDC data show that the average 6 to 11 year-old sampled is exposed to the OP pesticide chlorpyrifos (commonly known by the product name Dursban) at four times the level U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers “acceptable” for a long-term exposure.

If that doesn’t convince you to start buying organic I don’t know what will.

The Dirty Dozen: These Foods You SHOULD Buy Organic

Strawberries are pesticide magnets...

Strawberries are pesticide magnets...

So, ready for the most dangerous foods out there? All right then: lock your doors, and hide your children. These foods are bad to the bone…if you buy anything organic, it needs to be these 12:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Imported Grapes
  • Pears
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots

More Information On These Dirty Foods

Want to know how much pesticides EWG found on some of these foods? Here are some excerpts from their study:

  • Nectarines had the highest percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (97.3 percent), followed by peaches (96.7 percent) and apples (94.1 percent).
  • Peaches had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single sample – 87.0 percent had two or more pesticide residues – followed by nectarines (85.3 percent) and apples (82.3 percent).
  • Peaches and apples had the most pesticides detected on a single sample, with nine pesticides on a single sample, followed by strawberries and imported grapes where eight pesticides were found on a single sample of each fruit.
  • Peaches had the most pesticides overall, with some combination of up to 53 pesticides found on the samples tested, followed by apples with 50 pesticides and strawberries with 38.
  • Celery had the highest of percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (94.1 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (81.5 percent) and carrots (82.3 percent).
  • Celery also had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single vegetable (79.8 percent of samples), followed by sweet bell peppers (62.2 percent) and kale (53.1 percent)
  • Sweet bell peppers had the most pesticides detected on a single sample (11 found on one sample), followed by kale (10 found on one sample), then lettuce and celery (both with nine).
  • Sweet bell peppers were the vegetable with the most pesticides overall, with 64, followed by lettuce with 57 and carrots with 40.

The Cleanest, Healthiest Foods…

So, let’s take a quick minute to look at EWG’s assessment of the cleanest foods. These foods were found to have the lowest levels of pesticides.

  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Mangoes
  • Kiwis
  • Papayas
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit

Download the EWG Healthy Shopping Guide

I don’t know about you, but I never can remember all these fruits and vegetables when I’m actually at the grocery store. Fortunately, EWG has created a handy-dandy Shopping Guide that we can download for free.

All you have to do is download the .pdf, print it out, and keep it in your purse or car. The Shopping Guide lists the 12 dirtiest foods that contain the most pesticides, and the “Clean 15”, so you can easily see where it pays to buy organic and when you can save money buying regular.

You can click here to get the free Shopping Guide.

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Aya @ Thrive June 22, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Oh goodness! So many fruits… I’m surprised tomatoes are on the safe end, since most of those safe foods have inedible skin (e.g. avocados). I remember a Whole Foods lady telling me that some organic fruits and veggies are actually not that different in price from non-organic, even though many people thing organic=expensive. But then again spending a few extra cents are probably worth the health benefits!

heather June 23, 2009 at 4:52 am


I know, I was surprised at tomatoes too. They do seem to have a waxy skin that would be perfect for pesticides.

This year I’m actually growing my own tomatoes for the first time. I have 36 already! Seems like every day more little tomatoes pop up. I’m going to be in lycopene overload for the rest of the summer. 🙂

dawn June 23, 2009 at 8:18 am

I have to echo what others have said: i’m surprised tomatoes are considered safe becus i’ve heard from other environmental groups that tomatoes are heavily sprayed.

heather June 23, 2009 at 8:35 am


I hear you; I was surprised too. But it’s hard to doubt EWG; their research is incredibly thorough and they’re well-known for the quality of their information. So, I’m trusting them on this one! 🙂

Lg December 1, 2011 at 9:54 am

It seems that this is the explanation of why the cancer rate in the US is the highest. Nothing is safe to eat or use anymore. Shampoo contains chemicals that can cause cancer, juice contains arsenic , everything here is contaminated.

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