Is that organic fruit or vegetable you’re eyeing worth paying about 50% more to reduce the likelihood of pesticide exposure?
Maybe, maybe not.
Use of pesticides varies from one crop, region, and grower to the next, and buying organic produce doesn’t always guarantee the food will be free of residues. (The USDA allows organic farmers to use some pesticides; also, chemicals applied to conventionally grown crops can drift over to organic plots.)
Pesticide exposure likely isn’t as dangerous as many advocacy groups claim, too, and washing all produce can limit exposure. Still, there is some evidence that pesticides may affect the health of kids.
“Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies, and young children,” Dr. Phillip Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, told USA Today. “[S]o when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children’s exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables.”
The Pesticide Data Program — run by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) — is a good way to cut through the noise. Each year, the program examines thousands of samples of the foods children eat most frequently, tests them for pesticide residues, and releases its findings.
The USDA’s reports aren’t exactly easy to read, though, so a non-profit called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles the data into its “clean fifteen“: a list of conventionally grown produce items with the best track records when it comes to pesticide residues — and the ones EWG says you can probably skip buying organic.
Each food in the EWG’s list below is ranked based on six criteria, primarily by the trace amounts and variety of pesticides found by the USDA.
While it’s anything but the gospel when it comes to your own shopping choices, it can be a handy guide for busy families who don’t have time to pore over the USDA’s latest dataset.
Note: EWG also publishes a “dirty dozen” list of foods that it recommends buying organic.
Even if a fruit or vegetable is not on EWG's 'clean fifteen' list -- or is on its 'dirty dozen' list -- that doesn't mean you should avoid it or buy organic.
Exposure to pesticides can be dramatically limited by properly washing and preparing produce.
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