Dirty Dozen - Foods with the most amount of Pesticides in the UK and USA... (cue 'let's go Organic')

Before I share lists of foods, I thought I would share Pesticide Action Network's (PAN) definition of pesticides.

‘Pesticides’ is the umbrella term for thousands of different active substances designed to kill plants (herbicides, commonly referred to as weed killers), insects (insecticides), and mould and fungus (fungicides). All three of these groups of pesticides are used by farmers to grow the food we eat.

In the USA, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) annually report on the 46 popular foods that are most and least contaminated with pesticides using US Department of Agriculture test data. The agency prepares foods like we would; washing, peeling or scrubbing before testing them for pesticide residues. The EWG then produce a Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

In the EWG summary they share that: "Of the 46 items included in our analysis, these Dirty Dozen foods were contaminated with more pesticides than other crops, according to our analysis of USDA data. (The rankings are based not only on the percentage of samples with pesticides but also on the number and amount of pesticides on all samples and on individual samples. See Methodology.) Key findings:

  • More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and leafy greens tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.

  • A single sample of kale, collard and mustard greens had up to 20 different pesticides.

  • On average, spinach samples had 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop tested.

  • Hot peppers and bell peppers had the most pesticides detected, 115 pesticides in total and 21 more pesticides than the crops with the second highest amount – kale, collard and mustard greens."1

The report also offers a list of Clean 15 - Foods with the least amount of Pesticides "These 15 items had the lowest amounts of pesticide residues, according to EWG’s analysis of the most recent USDA data. Key findings:

  • Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Fewer than 2 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.

  • The first seven Clean Fifteen crops tested positive for three or fewer pesticides on a single sample.

  • Almost 70 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.

  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 8 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides."2

Handy guide with the above images

I'm not keen on labelling food with the term 'clean' as these still do have residues of pesticides so therefore aren't technically 'clean' and the mental health impact this may have on labelling 'good' or 'bad' or 'clean' food may be harmful for some.

BUT this information isn't as OUT there in the UK.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) have produced a report in 2017 which is a really interesting read and summed up in two pages here (or below in the PDF) based on The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) report.

Download PDF • 213KB

PAN have focused on fruit and vegetables, but cocktails of pesticide residues are found in many different foods, such as grains - barley, oats and wheat, meat, cheese, wines, fish and butter.

UK Dirty Dozen Fruits and Vegetables

Grapefruit 99%

Clementines 96%

Strawberries 89%

Prepacked Salad 81%

Grapes 78%

Lemons 75%

Peaches and Nectarines 67%

Pears 66%

Spinach 57%

Chilli Peppers 57%

Apples 52%

Blackberries and Blueberries 51%

% of samples with multiple residues based on the 2018 and 2019 data for multiple residues published by The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues who offer independent advice to the government for monitoring pesticide residue in food.

You can read this report here. The committee only ran for 5 years 2015-2019. This is all based on the UK's Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) set by law but if you've been following lawful changes you'll know that these changes can be questionable for the health of the population. Different countries outside of the EU have not been included in this report.

I'm not an expert at all on this subject and only want to share helpful information so we can give our bodies the best food. While eating some foods containing pesticides is unavoidable; through availability, awareness and financials, the more we eat the more likely it is to build up in our bodies. It's called the cocktail affect which is so brilliantly described by PAN here...

'Our lists of the ‘dirtiest’ fruit and vegetables are based on UK Government data showing what percentage of samples revealed residues of more than one pesticide. We have chosen to focus on multiple residues because our regulatory system is only set up to assess the safety of one pesticide at a time, and so misses what is often called ‘the cocktail effect’. There is a growing body of evidence that pesticides can become more harmful when combined and the ‘cocktail effect’ has long-been recognised as an area of concern in the UK. Despite this, little has been done to understand or prevent the human health impacts that may occur due to long-term exposure to pesticide cocktails. www.pan-uk.org/the-cocktail-effect'

So, save this page to your home screen and the next time you're writing a shopping list for fruit and veg, take note of which ones you could buy organically to reduce the levels of pesticides you eat. Organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, among other things. Eating organic food reduces pesticide exposure and is linked to a variety of health benefits (3).

I hope this helps and raises some awareness for the standards of our food and encourages you to eat locally and organically, where possible. Happy shopping, Emmy x

I would love to hear if you've found shops or companies that have organic foods that might help others find foods on the list above. Leave a comment below to share the love :) I like to keep asking anyone at big supermarkets if they have a an organic option to raise awareness.