Spinach jumps near top of 'dirty dozen' produce list

Hey Popeye, you might want to rethink yer "dirty" produce choice.

Strawberries remain at the top of the Environmental Working Group’s annual "dirty dozen" list of pesticide use in produce, but a new crop has popped near the top at number two: spinach. It was number eight last year.

The Environmental Working Group released its annual list of produce found with the most pesticide residues.  An analysis of tests conducted on 48 types of produce by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed 178 different pesticides being used.

The group also listed the clean fifteen of produce least likely to contain pesticide residues. Residues remained on some of the produce on the "dirty dozen" list, according to the Environmental Working Group, even after washing and even, in some cases, peeling.  But the group doesn’t necessarily say not to eat the fruits and vegetables on the list, but to be mindful of them.

"Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they're grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic,” Sonya Lunder, an EWG analyst said in a statement. “If you can't buy organic, the Shopper's Guide will steer you to conventionally grown produce that is the lowest in pesticides."

The annual list rankles some in the produce industry.

Genevieve O’Sullivan, a spokeswoman for CropLife America, a pesticide industry trade group, declined to comment. But she pointed to a recent Washington Post article questioning whether such lists do harm by discouraging people from eating fruits and vegetables, given that the amount of pesticides present in produce is so low.

Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), called it "concerning" that EWG still releases  the list.  The AFF is supported by produce growers, sellers and shippers.

“EWG’s list has been discredited by scientists, it is not based upon risk and has now been shown to potentially discourage consumption of healthy and safe organic and conventional fruits and vegetables," Thorne said via an email.

Regardless, EWG continued to release the list for 2017. Among its stated findings:

  • Nearly all samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.  
  • The most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides.
  • Spinach samples, previously lower in past years, had an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.

Here’s the "dirty dozen" list in order of pesticide residue found:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet bell peppers
  12. Potatoes

The following are the "clean fifteen" ranked with the least pesticide residuals first:

  1. Sweet Corn
  2. Avocados
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew melon
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Grapefruit