top of page

Produce - Is it Safe Enough to Eat?

The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen

by Jill-Ann Ouellette

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list each year of the fruits and vegetables that have the most herbicides and pesticides. The EWG is a non-profit organization that researches toxic chemicals in everyday products including produce. A visit to their website,, just might change your life and health for the better!

As you probably know, herbicides kill herbs and weeds and pesticides kill bugs and pests. Using these two “-cides” had become the common practice nationally many years ago in commercial farming in order to increase yields. Whereas, smaller, organic farming utilizes more natural approaches.

The EWG does a good job with the analysis and updating the lists each year. However, they do not test for glyphosate, which is a widely used herbicide suspected to be carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, our toxic loads are getting higher from foods, personal-care, and cleaning products each year.

I’m not suggesting that you never buy produce on the Dirty Dozen list. Buying organic will reduce your toxic load. This summer, go to the local farmers markets that offer a great selection of locally grown, organic produce and toxic-free, handcrafted, personal-care products.

Always, always wash produce before consuming it, unless you’re picking it in your back yard. There are many produce cleaners available at most grocery stores. You can choose a spray-on cleaner like ECOS® Non-Toxic Fruit & Veggie Wash, Fit Organic Produce Wash, or Rebel Green Fruit & Veggie Wash, to name a few. You could get an ultrasonic cleaning unit, like AquaPure or Roots & Harvest. These units range in cost from $50 to $300.

Head to your pantry and make a do-it-yourself produce cleaner. Add three parts of purified or distilled water to one part of white vinegar. Soak your fruits and vegetables in the solution for ten minutes, and then rinse them with water to get rid of pesticide residues. This traditional home remedy also works against bacteria and fungi. You can’t detect the vinegar taste after a thorough post-soak/rinse with clean water. 


The US Food and Drug Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and other scientists suggest using a cold-water soak with baking soda to effectively remove dirt, chemical residues, and other unwanted materials from your fresh vegetables and fruits. There’s lots of advice to choose from—but do pick one!


See boxes for both the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. The list is rated with the worst first on the dirty ones and the cleanest first on the clean ones. So, watch out for those strawberries!


On your way home from the grocery store, don’t go grabbing an unwashed handful of grapes or that crisp apple for the ride home—unless they are organic, of course!


The Dirty Dozen

These are the fruits and veggies that contain the most pesticides and herbicides, so buy organic if your budget allows. Otherwise, definitely clean them thoroughly, maybe even twice! And grow them in your own garden, then you’ll know how clean they are.


• Strawberries

• Spinach

• Kale, collard, and mustard greens

• Peaches

• Pears

• Nectarines

• Apples

  • Grapes

• Bell peppers and hot peppers

• Cherries

• Blueberries

• Green beans


The Clean Fifteen

These fruits and veggies are safer to buy conventionally-grown, because they have the lowest pesticide/herbicide residues. It’s still good to wash them (those that can be), before consuming. Some of these are naturally resistant to pests. Buying these conventionally grown will be easier on the pocketbook.


• Avocados

• Sweet corn

• Pineapples

• Onions

• Papayas

• Sweet peas (frozen)

• Asparagus

• Honeydew melons

• Kiwis

• Cabbages

• Mushrooms

• Mangoes


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page