‘Dirty Dozen’ produce: Strawberries, spinach top 2024 list for most pesticides

Tubs of strawberries are pictured in a file image. (Photo by Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The 2024 "Dirty Dozen" list was released on Wednesday, an annual roundup of the 12 fruits and vegetables found to have the most pesticides, ranking strawberries, spinach, apples and blueberries among the top 12. 

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, determined that 75% of all conventional fresh produce sampled had residues of potentially harmful pesticides. 

And for items on its Dirty Dozen list, a whopping 95% of samples contained pesticides. 

The report, titled "EWG’s 2024 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce," lists what the EWG found to be the most contaminated nonorganic produce, as well as the "Clean 15" – or items found to have the lowest amounts of pesticide residues.

The EWG's report analyzed data from tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration on 47,510 samples of 46 fruits and vegetables. 

The USDA peels or scrubs and washes the produce samples before they’re tested, while the FDA removes only dirt first. Even after these steps, the EWG said testing still found traces of 254 pesticides in all fruits and vegetables analyzed, and 209 of these were on Dirty Dozen produce.

"Everyone – adults and kids – should eat more fruits and vegetables, whether organic or not," EWG Senior Scientist Alexa Friedman, Ph.D., said in a statement. "But consumers concerned about pesticide exposure can use the suite of materials in EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to make the best choices for them and their families."

Farmers, other critics push back on ‘Dirty Dozen’ list

Critics of EWG’s annual Dirty Dozen list point out how only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables in a day, citing data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that has remained unchanged since the last survey almost a decade ago.

Those living below or close to the poverty level were the least likely to meet vegetable recommendations amid access and affordability obstacles, according to a CDC report

The Alliance for Food and Farming, a nonprofit that represents organic and conventional farmers, also noted how the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program consistently finds that over 99% of foods sampled had residue levels below Environmental Protection Agency’s safety standards, "with over 27% having no detectable residues at all."

For its part, the EWG also noted how everyone should eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whether organic or conventionally grown, as "the health benefits of such a diet outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure."

‘Dirty Dozen’ 2024 produce

The EWG’s annual report said four of the five most frequently detected chemicals in produce are fungicides: fludioxonil, pyraclostrobin, boscalid and pyrimethanil. 

Fungicides are applied on fruits and vegetables to prevent or kill fungal diseases like powdery mildew, and to keep produce mold-free on its way to the grocery store, the nonprofit explained. 

Two of these, fludioxonil and pyrimethanil, may be endocrine disruptors with the potential to harm the male reproductive system, the nonprofit suggested.

"Emerging evidence suggests many widely used fungicides may disrupt human hormone systems," EWG Senior Toxicologist Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., said in a statement. "But more studies are needed to better understand the risks they – and all pesticides – pose to humans, particularly children."

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Grapes
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Nectarines
  8. Apples
  9. Bell and hot peppers
  10. Cherries
  11. Blueberries
  12. Green beans

‘Clean Fifteen’ 2024 produce

The EWG’s Shopper’s Guide also includes the Clean Fifteen list, compiling the fruits and vegetables with "very low or no pesticide residues." Almost 65% of these samples had no detectable pesticide residues.

"EWG recommends consumers seeking fresh produce with low pesticide residues buy organic versions of items on EWG’s Dirty Dozen and either organic or conventional versions of produce on the Clean Fifteen," Temkin said. "There are also many organic and Clean Fifteen options in the frozen food aisle."

  1. Avocado
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Watermelon
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Mangoes
  14. Sweet potatoes
  15. Carrots

Can you clean pesticides off of produce?

Washing produce under running water is better than dunking it, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Peeling or scrubbing produce like potatoes with a clean brush or rubbing soft produce like peaches while holding them under running water works best to remove residues.

The FDA does not recommend using detergents or soaps, as fruit and vegetables have pores and can absorb some of these products, the NPIC adds.

Consumers may also choose to buy organic foods, which are grown and processed without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, the NPIC notes that organic food is not fully pesticide-free. 

"Food with a USDA organic symbol has been largely produced without man-made pesticides or other man-made products," the NPIC states on its website. "Only organic pesticide ingredients can be used on foods that are certified organic, with very few exceptions."

The NPIC recommends eating a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize the potential exposure to a single pesticide, and be sure to thoroughly wash all produce – even those labeled organic and produce that will be peeled before eating. 

Click here for more tips to reduce pesticide residues, as well as dirt and bacteria, on foods. 

This story was reported from Cincinnati.