If apples are, well, the apple of your eye, you may be shocked to learn that they're also at the top of the "dirty dozen" list of fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticide residues, followed closely by grapes and strawberries.
A U.S. Agriculture Department survey found that nearly 100 percent of the samples tested were contaminated with presticide residue – even after they were washed under cold water for 10 seconds.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes the USDA findings each year to find the both the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15" fruits and vegetables.
Notable changes this year included apples’ rank as the most contaminated produce, jumping three spots from last year to replace celery at the top of the “Dirty Dozen” list. According to USDA, pesticides showed up on 98 percent of the more than 700 apple samples tested.
Nevertheless, most experts agree the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure, and EWG said it strongly recommends that everyone follow USDA’s recommendation to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
“Pesticides are toxic,” said Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst at EWG. “They are designed to kill things and most are not good for you. The question is, how bad are they?”
Making an appearance in the guide for the first time is the herb cilantro, which had never been tested by USDA until now. The data showed 33 unapproved pesticides on 44 percent of the cilantro samples tested, which is the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded on any item included in the guide since EWG started tracking the data in 1995.
Also appearing in the guide for the first time are green onions, cranberries and mushrooms. Mushrooms made the “Clean 15” list, while honeydew was the only item to drop off that list this year. Cherries dropped off the “Dirty Dozen” list, but lettuce, which has made the list in previous years, was back on.
“Though buying organic is always the best choice, we know that sometimes people do not have access to that produce or cannot afford it,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Our guide helps consumers concerned about pesticides to make better choices among conventional produce, and lets them know which fruits and vegetables they may want to buy organic.”
Pesticides can be extremely toxic to human health and the environment. U.S. and international government agencies alike have linked pesticides to nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone system disruption and IQ deficits among children.
"I really worry that pesticides on food are unhealthy for the tender, developing brains and bodies of young children," said Dr. Harvey Karp, MD, FAAP, creator of the book/DVD The Happiest Baby on the Block. "Parents don't realize they're often feeding their little ones fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide residues. Studies show even small amounts of these chemicals add up and can impair a child's health when they're exposed during the early, critical stages of their development."
When pesticide sprayers have to bundle up in astronaut-like suits for protection, it's clear parents want to feed their families food containing as little of these toxic chemicals as possible."
"Pesticides, while designed specifically to kill certain organisms, are also associated with a host of very serious health problems in people, including neurological deficits, ADHD, endocrine system disruption and cancer," said Andrew Weil, MD, Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. "My advice to consumers is to whenever possible avoid exposure to pesticides, including pesticide residues on food."
Consumers who choose five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG's Clean 15 list rather than from the Dirty Dozen can lower the volume of pesticides they consume by 92 percent, according to EWG’s calculations. They will also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking five servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most-contaminated products would result in consuming an average of 14 different pesticides a day. Choosing five servings from the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables would result in consuming fewer than two pesticides per day.
EWG’s Shoppers Guide is available as a PDF download at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/. An iPhone app will be available in the near future. For a small donation, consumers can also have a version of the guide sent to them as a bag tag that can be attached to reusable shopping bags.