Should you buy organic? 12 most contaminated foods

Should you buy organic? 12 most contaminated foods

Is organic food really worth it?  I get his question a lot.  I believe it depends on the food.  The biggest motivation to buy organic is to eliminate foods sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  Some people position themselves on the organic side for two reasons.  1.) Minimize their exposure of these chemicals, and 2.) Minimize support of farms that expose their employees to the high amount of chemicals used by spraying while also contaminating the soil in their community.

If your primary goal of buying organic is to eliminate the amount of foods with pesticide residues you place in your body you should read the list called the Dirty Dozen.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates an annual list that provides consumers with the 12 most contaminated crops by pesticides (a 2011 list yields results from 2010 crops).  Since I cook for 6, I understand the challenge of buying organic on a budget.  I really rely on this list to tell me what I should spend my money on.  According the EWG, if you follow this list, you can reduce your overall exposure by 80%.  To check out the pesticides on these foods click here.

  • Apples and therefore apple juices and sauces. You can peel the skin (not scrub it) of the apple to eliminate the 42 pesticides present on the average non-organic crop, however, you are throwing out one of most nutritious parts.
  • Celery from non-organic farms has often been found with 60 different pesticides.  Because it has no protective skin the pesticides immerse themselves to this crunchy veggie.
  • Strawberries are tough for regular farmers because of the amount of fungus that smothers the crop.  In order the control the fungus, farmers must use pesticides.  It is really difficult to wash away these pesticides.  If you cant afford them organic, try buying strawberries frozen where there are generally less total pesticides.  Blueberries fall in this same category (frozen bags have less).  Both carry over 50 pesticides.
  • Peaches have also been found with 60 different pesticides on them.  So also avoid the single servings of peaches.  However, canned peaches have fewer pesticides in general.
  • Spinach, Kale (a newer addition to the list) and Lettuce of all leafy greens has the most pesticides.  They carry about 50 types of pesticides when they come from non-organic farms.  Once again, frozen spinach does have less if you cannot afford spinach from an organic farm.
  • Nectarines from imported farms carry a large number of chemicals.  Our domestic nectarines are not as bad, but it is still a good idea to be selective and buy organic and ripe to eat so there is no waste.
  • Grapes are another fruit that comes to the US from other countries with a lot of pesticides.  Keep in mind, that raisins also need to be bought organic if you want to stick to this recommended list of organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Sweet Bell Peppers also rank very high in chemicals- insecticide get through this thin skinned vegetable, sadly is all colors.
  • Potatoes should come as no surprise.  We have all heard of the terrible pests that have historically threatened the potato crop.  So many farmers need to rely on pesticides to keep their crop healthy.  I was surprised to know that sweet potatoes however, have a much lower amount of pesticide residue.

Can’t Afford Organic – What do you do?

If it is not reasonable to budget for organic food, particularly if you live on a strict budget you can take comfort in the fact that the USDA sets allowable pesticide residue limits that are deemed safe for consumption.   Of course, these standards are constantly being debated by various environmental agencies as too liberal, favoring the farm, more than the health interests of the consumer. If this list freaked you out and you are torn between breaking the bank, you can do what I do – shop the sales and cook accordingly.  I will admit, I have a hard time always buying strawberries and blueberries organic because they are so expensive and all my kids eat them.  But I will rotate my purchases.  Since I love kale, spinach, brussel sprouts – pretty much anything green; I buy whichever one is on sale and actually looks like it will make it all week in the refrigerator.


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  • Organic can be expensive. The good news is that you can grow your own and have it organic. Not much room is needed. Even apartment and codo dwellers can use containers for a good number of plants.

    In Illinois, there is no certification for organic -- not that I would trust anything the state labels now-a-days.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    That is a cool idea. I once did a blog on building your own rooftop garden. Thanks for sharing.

  • Raised beds in the burbs work, too. No, not those kind of beds LOL. Raising the beds of the planting surface seems to help drainage and keep disease and pests at a minimum.

    Fertilizer can be food scraps, coffee grounds, etc., composted.

    Eating seasonal can help, too. Many people won't eat veggies when they are tasteless, which is most of the time off season. Something literally off your own vine can kill your taste buds for the crap that most supermarkets and restaurants serve up.

    No matter how good the veggie, most do not and cannot provide the entire vitamin and mineral balance needed by humans. (Sorry, vegans and vegetarians) In fact, growing evidence is showing that starchy veggies in too high a quantity actually are not good for a person.

    Like I won't trust Gov. MadiQuinn and the state to tell me what is organic, I am also suspect of most of the green groups, such as something called the Environmental Working Group.

    Good article to get one thinking, though, with our spring weather in January.

  • Both organic and conventional strawberry farmers use sulfur, which is registered as a pesticide, to help control powdery mildew. (Sulfur is one of hundreds or registered pesticides approved for use by organic farmers.)

    According to the US EPA, " of the greatest causes of pesticide exposure to humans is the use of pesticides in and around the home." The EPA has a great citizen's guide to pesticide safety at:

  • In reply to Carolyn O’Donnell:

    It is sometimes scarey to even know what is used on any products we buy.

  • If you're concerned about organic or conventional pesticide residues, simply wash your fruits and veggies. According to the FDA, you can often remove or eliminate any minute residues that may be present simply by washing.

    But, while the referenced list seems reasonable on the surface - it is not risk based, nor does it provide information that consumers should use when making purchasing decisions, according to scientists. For science-based information about the safety of all fruits and veggies, visit and use the calculator to learn more.

    Consumers should also know that organic and conventional farmers only apply pesticides when other pest and disease control strategies aren't enough. When organic and conventional farmers do use pesticides, they must follow stringent government safety standards that are protective of their workers, their own families and their consumers.

    But, instead of gimmicky lists, consumers should follow the advice of nutritionists and health professionals everywhere - eat more fruits and vegetables and whether you choose organic or conventional on your shopping trip, know that both growing methods are very very safe. Just wash them and enjoy!

  • Thanks for providing a good alternative to buying organic.

  • As a farmer I find it interesting that people include fertilizer with pesticides as being something they are concerned about. I understand wanting a pesticide free product to an extent (however mother nature produces more organic substances that will harm and kill you as any chemical company) but not fertilizer. As a farmer I know that fertilizers are basic nutrients that are essential to good food and health.

  • In reply to farmview:

    Thank you for clarifing the value of fertilizer. The list of foods that are part of the dirty dozen are ranked mostly based on the number of pesticides. I provided the website address for those who want to really see the names and number found on the dirty dozen list.
    Would you be interested in doing an interview to help all of us better understand the difference between fertilizers and other chemicals sprayed on crops? I certainly could use some education on fertilizers.

  • I just got in from checking on the cattle and had left this up on the screen. If you think my point of view and experience would help with understanding some aspects of farming I might agree to some conversations. If you can let me know how we can introduce each other, we can decide how to proceed. If I need to release my email or phone number, etc to you through this sites managers let me know and I will give it a try. Thanks

  • In reply to farmview:

    I would not ask you to reveal your personal information. But I think we could do an email interview. You can email me and then I will send you some questions.

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  • I'd purely tell you all “awesome information”

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