2023's Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 Lists Are Out: Here's What To Know
Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes the most recent USDA data to compile its infamous Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists.
These list the types of fruits and vegetables that tend to be grown with the most and least pesticides, based on the latest available numbers.
Before we peel back the results of the 2023 list, a produce PSA: Don't take them as a sign that you should be avoiding any fruits or vegetables altogether—even the ones considered "dirty."
Given research like this study out of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, which found that after seeing pesticide messaging, low-income shoppers were less likely to purchase any fruits or vegetables, it's important to point out that eating a non-organic strawberry is still by and large a healthier choice than eating, say, a strawberry-flavored gummy bear. Filling your plate with a variety of fresh fruits and veggies will always be a cornerstone of good nutrition.
So, you can think of these lists more as resources to help guide your produce purchasing habits. If you only have a certain amount of money to spend at the grocery store, the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 can steer you toward the produce you should prioritize buying organic from a health perspective (though there are environmental and worker's rights reasons to buy organic when you can too).
With that out of the way, here's the updated list:
The 2023 Dirty Dozen:
To come up with this year's list, the EWG parsed through USDA data on 46,569 samples of 46 of the most popular fruits and veggies (you can see how all of them stacked up here). The USDA washed and peeled them as one would do at home before testing them for pesticides.
After washing, nearly 75% of non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contained residues of pesticides, the report found.
To rank each type of produce from "clean" to "dirty," the EWG assigns it a score based on the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides; percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides; average number of pesticides found on a single sample; average amount of pesticides found; maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample; and total number of pesticides found on the crop.
"All categories are weighted equally since they convey different but equally relevant information about pesticide levels on produce," the report's methodology section reads.
This means that the list indicates which crops tend to be treated with the highest volume and variety of pesticides and doesn't go so far as to definitively say which ones are the riskiest from a human health perspective.
Here is the most recent list:
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell & Hot Peppers
- Green Beans
Blueberries and green beans are new additions to this year's Dirty Dozen list. "Several green bean samples had residues of acephate, a toxic pesticide, which the EPA banned more than 10 years ago from use on green beans grown for food," the report reads. Overall, more than 90% of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and grapes sampled tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
The 2023 Clean 15:
As is the case every year, you'll notice that most of 2023's "cleanest" produce has a tough outer peel, husk, or shell that is removed prior to eating. Makes sense!
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
Carrots are new additions to this year's list, knocking off cantaloupe for the title of purist produce tested. Almost 65% of these fruit and vegetable samples had no detectable pesticide residues after preparation, the EWG notes. Avocados and sweet corn samples were the cleanest tested, and less than 2% of them had any detectable pesticides. Time for a Mexican-inspired salad, anyone?
Every year, the EWG's Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen provide an overview of the fruits and vegetables that contain the most and least pesticides. These lists can help you decide where it's worth it to splurge on organic produce versus save your cash for that fancy olive oil you've been eyeing.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.