The Worst Produce for Pesticide Residue in 2021

Child in a grocery story produce department
No-Te Eksarunchai /

Strawberries again rank as the “dirtiest” produce, at least according to one nonprofit.

The sweet summertime staple earned the No. 1 spot on the Environmental Working Group’s latest annual ranking of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue — the “Dirty Dozen” list.

More than 90% of strawberry samples tested positive for residue of at least two pesticides, according to the EWG’s 2021 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

And strawberries are far from alone. Some 90% of samples of apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and leafy greens also had residues of two or more pesticides.

The fruits and vegetables that made the 2021 Dirty Dozen list are:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Peaches
  9. Pears
  10. Bell and hot peppers
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

These are the worst of 46 types of produce that the EWG scrutinized this year.

The group’s ranking is based on an analysis of more than 46,000 samples taken by federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The ranking accounts for both the percentage of samples with pesticides and the amount of pesticides detected on samples.

Also worth noting is that before testing produce, the USDA processes it the same way consumers would at home: It peels produce with inedible peels and washes and drains other produce before testing it.

Opposite the Dirty Dozen in the ranking is what the EWG calls the “Clean Fifteen,” the produce that fared best in terms of pesticide residue. For example, less than 2% of conventional avocados and sweet corn had any pesticide residue.

In fact, looking at the Clean Fifteen as a whole, almost 70% of samples had no pesticide residue and only 8% of samples had more than one pesticide.

The 2021 Clean Fifteen are:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papayas
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Broccoli
  10. Cabbage
  11. Kiwi
  12. Cauliflower
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Cantaloupe

New to the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce this year is a special spotlight on citrus — specifically, on two fungicides detected on conventionally grown citrus tested by the USDA as well as an independent laboratory commissioned by the EWG.

These fruits included grapefruit, lemons, oranges and mandarins (which included fruits labeled as mandarins, clementines, tangerines and Satsumas).

The fungicides, imazalil and thiabendazole, were detected on close to 90% of samples in the EWG-commissioned tests, which also were peeled before testing. The group describes these fungicides as endocrine disrupters, explaining:

“Both chemicals disrupt the body’s hormones, or endocrine system, which regulates metabolism, growth and development, and other important functions. They can also harm the reproductive system, and California scientists classify one of them [imazalil] as a chemical known to cause cancer.”

To learn more, see the EWG’s post “Tests Find Hormone-Disrupting Fungicides on Most Citrus Fruit Samples.”

And if this news is enough to make you want to try growing your own produce, check out “How to Start a Garden to Save Money on Food.”

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