2020's Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 Lists Are Out — Here's What You Should Know

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Summer Produce

Image by Deirdre Malfatto / Stocksy

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes data from the USDA to determine which fruits and vegetables in the U.S. have the most pesticides and which have the least. The lists, dubbed the Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen, are not meant to tell shoppers to avoid these fruits and veggies altogether, but to help them make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing. 

"Since the Clean 15 are low in pesticide residue—whether it's because they have a peel or simply the way they were produced—those can be bought conventional with low risk," researcher and toxicologist Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., told mbg. This list can be helpful for those of us who don't have the access or financial resources to buy all their fresh foods organic.

Let's take a look at the highs and lows on this year's just-released list. (And if you're curious, you can compare them to the 2019 dirty dozen list here.)

The Clean 15 

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupes
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Kiwi

Like last year, avocados came in as the "cleanest," followed closely by sweet corn. Each had less than 2% of samples showing any pesticide residue. The rest of the list still had comfortingly low levels, though. According to the report, "Almost 70% of Clean 15 fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues."

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What's so bad about pesticides?

"Pesticides are designed to kill unwanted organisms, like weeds, so they're naturally designed to have a toxic effect," Temkin said. "And research has shown, when you're exposed to chronic low doses of mixtures of pesticides, it can produce adverse health effects."

The 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

Looking at this list, we can conclude that fruits and veggies that have delicate exteriors (and therefore run the risk of being destroyed by insects or infection before they make it to market) tend to need more protective chemicals—which makes sense. "When growers decide when to use pesticides, it's really a business decision," explains Naidenko. "Their goal is not to spray a lot of pesticides and poison people but to get their produce to market."

If you're looking to avoid pesticides for the sake of your well-being (not to mention, the health of farmers and the planet), you might want to stay away from the softies. However, as the EWG notes, produce that is grown with pesticides is still better than no produce at all.

"The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure," the report FAQ reads. "Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables."

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