Love kale but want to minimize your exposure to pesticide residue? If so, consider buying organic. For the first time since 2009, this leafy green vegetable has made the nonprofit Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen list, which ranks conventionally grown fruits and vegetables by the amount of pesticide residue on them after rinsing and peeling, as tested by the USDA and FDA.
Of 47 fruits and vegetables, kale came in #3 for most contaminated, with 92 percent of samples having detectable levels of two or more pesticides. Some 60 percent had traces of DCPA (Dacthal), a possible human carcinogen that has been banned in Europe but is still allowed on U.S. crops.
The other fruits and vegetables on the 2019 Dirty Dozen list are, in descending order of contamination: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes. Those with few, if any, detected pesticide residue—on the Clean Fifteen list—are avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, sweet peas (frozen), onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwifruit, cabbage, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms, and honeydew melons.
The harm of pesticide residue in food is not clear—and most Americans would benefit by eating more fruits and vegetables, no matter how they are grown (conventionally with synthetic pesticides or organically, mostly without). But it makes sense to minimize exposure to pesticides when possible, especially when it comes to infants, children, and pregnant women, since developing bodies are more susceptible to pesticide toxicity. One way to do this is to buy organic produce. But because organic produce generally costs more (and may not always be available), you can limit organic purchases to the fruits and vegetables that tend to have the most pesticide residue and opt for conventional versions of those that tend to be least contaminated. Bear in mind, however, that organic produce is not necessarily 100 percent free of pesticides, since botanical pesticides (presumably safer) and a few synthetic pesticides are allowed in organic production, and because pesticides may drift from non-organic farms.
Bottom line: By choosing organic versions of fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list, such as kale, and conventionally grown produce on the Clean Fifteen list, “you can have all the benefits of eating more produce while at the same time reducing your exposure to pesticides,” according to the Environmental Working Group.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
Also see Do Organic Foods Reduce Cancer Risk?