Cheaper by the Dirty Dozen?



When passing by the produce aisle of a supermarket, do you ever wonder what makes an organic apple or cucumber worth the extra cost? It’s healthier, you may think. But why?

One reason is that it does not contain pesticides, which are toxic substances that target pests, such as insects and weeds. So does that mean you should always choose organic? Purchasing organic foods may seem like a healthy and environmentally-friendly solution, but the financial cost can be relatively higher than that of conventional foods. Healthy Aggies recommend to find a balance between choosing organic and conventional foods that work with your budget and personal values.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are 12 fruits and vegetables often contaminated by pesticides and are referred as “The Dirty Dozen.”

The Dirty Dozen from 2015 (beginning with the most contaminated):

  1. Apples
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Grapes
  6. Celery
  7. Spinach
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas – imported
  12. Potatoes

What makes these fruits and vegetables so ‘dirty’?

These fruits and vegetables have thin skin and farmers usually use pesticides since they are more prone to pests. Peaches, for example, have such thin skin that pesticides leach in and are absorbed by the flesh of the fruit. Other fruits, such as apples, contain diphenylamine (DPA), a chemical wax that is intentionally applied to the skin for aesthetic appeal.

Why should I avoid pesticides?

According to the Toxics Action Center, an accumulation of pesticides in the body can result to health hazards that range from short-term (i.e. headaches, nausea) to chronic diseases (i.e. cancers, reproductive harm).

How can I reduce pesticide consumption?

You can purchase produce from ‘The Clean Fifteen.’ These fruits and vegetables have more protective skins that help prevent pesticides from leaching in. EWG found that only 1% of avocados showed any detectable pesticides. Additionally, 89% of pineapples, 82% of kiwi, 80% of papayas, 88% of mango and 61% of cantaloupe have had no chemical residues.

The Clean Fifteen from 2015 (beginning with the least contaminated):

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet peas frozen
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papayas
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet Potatoes

Ultimately, it is your decision whether to choose organic or conventional produce, which can depend on your financial resources and personal values. Consider getting to know your grower and visit your local farmers’ market (offered on-campus and downtown Davis). Some growers don’t use pesticides and are certified organic but also don’t charge the extra cost. It is encouraged to be mindful of your food choices and take advantage of the EWG and campus resources to make your next produce purchases more healthful and cost effective.

Sources of information:



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