Fit for Life

Dietitian breaks down the Dirty Dozen, Clean 15 produce lists

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By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

With spring and summer harvests, there are a variety of fruits and vegetables available this time of year. To buy organic or not may be a question on the mind of consumers.

Every year, the Environmental Working Group does an analysis on 48 types of conventionally grown produce that have been contaminated with pesticides. The top 12 fruits and vegetables found to have the most pesticide residues is known as the “Dirty Dozen” while the 15 fruits and vegetables found to have the least amount of pesticide residues is known as the “Clean 15.”

The produce on this year’s “Dirty Dozen” list are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes. The produce on this year’s “Clean 15” list are sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.

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Christina Fava, a registered dietitian and in-store nutritionist with Giant Food Store, shared why these lists are important for shoppers and what to do when you can’t afford organic produce.

Q: WHY IS IMPORTANT FOR SHOPPERS TO BE AWARE OF THE “DIRTY DOZEN” AND “CLEAN 15” LISTS? HOW ARE THESE LISTS ARE FORMED EVERY YEAR?

A: It’s important to know because you want to choose the organic version for the “Dirty Dozen” and with the “Clean 15,” it’s not as necessary to buy the organic version as they have less pesticides than the “Dirty Dozen.”

The Environmental Working Group update the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists every year. Typically, the Dirty Dozen list doesn’t change that much from year to year. Usually you’ll see the same produce on that list such as strawberries, apples and pears. That environmental group compiles each list based on 35,000 samples of 48 popular fruits and vegetables and then they test through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The produce is tested for pesticides after they have been prepared to consume which they are thoroughly washed, peeled or cooked.

Q: WHAT ARE PESTICIDES AND SOME OF THE KNOWN NEGATIVE EFFECTS?

A: Pesticides are toxic and are created to kill live organisms such as insects and fungi on plants. Many pesticides do pose health dangers. These risks have been confirmed through research with physicians and scientists. Even U.S. government agencies have also acknowledged the health risks that pesticides impose. Different pesticides have been linked to brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone disruption and also skin, eye and lung irritation.

Q: WHY ARE THE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES IN THE CLEAN 15 LIST LESS LIKELY TO HAVE PESTICIDE RESIDUES THAN THE DIRTY DOZEN LIST?

A: Produce on the Clean 15 list such as avocados have an outer layer of skin that provides further protection against pesticide residues. You don’t eat the skin of a pineapple or avocado so naturally people eating those items will ingest less pesticides. Even with onions, you peel away the first layer or two before you actually eat it or prepare it. Strawberries are number one on the Dirty Dozen list because you can’t feel peel the outer layer of a strawberry.

Q: WHAT QUALIFIES A PRODUCE ITEM AS ORGANIC?

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A: There are very strict laws and regulations in place to become a certified organic product. Organic food is free of most pesticides. There may still be some pesticides used on produce but it’s significantly less and different kinds are used than on conventional produce. So organic produce will have a sticker with a “9” before the four-digit produce code. If there is no “9” then the produce is conventional and not certified organic.

Q: ARE THERE ANY TIPS YOU HAVE FOR INDIVIDUALS THAT FEEL THEY CAN’T AFFORD TO BUY ANYTHING ORGANIC? WHAT CAN THEY DO TO STILL CONSUME LESS PESTICIDES?

A: It’s definitely helpful to rinse produce very thoroughly underneath water to remove some of the pesticides but not all the pesticides will be washed away. Apples are included on the Dirty Dozen list but if you can’t afford to purchase organic apples then you can always peel the skin from the apples. The actual peel is where the pesticides are going to be but at the same time, you will lose out on fiber from not eating the skin of the apple.

So it’s best to just rinse it really well if you can’t afford to buy organic produce. It’s very important to wash produce whether it’s organic or not. Make sure you wash fruits and vegetables right before they are consumed. If you wash them then put the produce in the refrigerator and eat a few days later, bacteria will grow on it. It’s best to rinse it right before you eat produce raw or cook it.

Also, try to buy fruits and veggies that are in season and buy organic items when they are on sale. People can also buy frozen produce such as frozen strawberries to save money. Berries in general have a lot of pesticides on them if not bought organic. Buying the organic frozen berries would be a great alternative. It’s less expensive and you can have them in the freezer for an extended time without worrying about them going bad as opposed to fresh.

Fava said if consumers have additional questions about organic produce versus non-organic, they can contact in-store nutritionists at Giant Food Stores or visit the website at GiantFoodStores.com. For more about the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists, visit www.ewg.org/foodnews/index.php.

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