You’ve probably been there before. Standing in front of the organic produce section at your grocery store, you’ve eyed the noticeably smaller fruits and vegetables that are somehow double the price of the non-organic options just a few steps away. Unless you’re a true health nut (with some extra cash), chances are you turn around and throw some non-organic, more affordable produce into your cart before moving on. You may pat yourself on the back for even straying into the produce section at all considering that the processed foods you find in the middle aisles of the store are significantly cheaper.
While fresh produce is always a better choice than Cheetos, syrupy canned fruit, and frozen TV dinners, the trouble with conventional produce is that it’s grown using harmful pesticides. A pesticide can be a naturally derived or synthetically produced substance that is used to control insects, bacteria, fungus, mold, and rodents that can ruin a harvest of fruit or veggies. The National Pesticide Information Center states that they can also extend the shelf life of some foods, which is why those apples on the table can be grown in Chile, shipped to your grocery store in Kansas, and still taste fresh. The pesticides wear off as the produce is shipped, exposed to light, washed, and prepared, but there is often still a pesticide residue, which can have health risks associated with it.
This is why when it comes to fresh produce, it pays to understand what items you can buy non-organic and not worry about (called the “Clean 15”) and what fruits and vegetables are worth the organic mark-up. CNN reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs tests to measure the pesticide residue on the produce you buy. Based on these tests, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental activist group, puts together an annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the produce that has the most pesticide residue based on data from the USDA. For the past five years, apples have topped the charts on produce with the highest pesticide levels. Here’s a ranking of what the EWG is reporting for 2016.