The Clean 15 & the Dirty Dozen

by Erica on April 25, 2012


What needs to be organic, and what doesn’t…

We all know we should be eating our fruits and veggies, and a lot more of it, but buying fresh produce regularly can get pricey, and it can also be confusing.  I keep hearing mixed messages in the media about what produce to buy organic, and what “conventionally” grown produce is okay to consume.  Fortunately, I recently discovered the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit that was founded in 1993.  Their mission “is to use the power of pubic information to protect public health and the environment,” per their website:  The EWG conducts research for consumers, including the “EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides,” which is where the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists come from.  This Guide ranks pesticide contamination for 53 popular American fruits and vegetables based on testing done from 2000-2009 by the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Almost all of the produce tested were done so after they had been rinsed or peeled, and approximately 51,000 tests of produce were conducted.

The Clean 15 consists of fruits and vegetables that are least likely to test positive for pesticides.  In other words, you should be safe if you purchase these fruits and veggies “conventionally” (also known as “non-organic”).  The Clean 15 list includes: onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant, cabbage, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, pineapples, avocado, mangoes, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi, watermelon, and grapefruit.

On the other hand, the Dirty Dozen list includes the most contaminated foods, and the EWG highly recommends only consuming organic versions of these fruits and vegetables, if at all possible.  The Dirty Dozen list includes: apples, strawberries, peaches, domestic nectarines, imported grapes, domestic blueberries, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, lettuce, and greens (collards and kale). 

I was quite surprised while reviewing the Dirty Dozen on the EWG’s website, regarding just how contaminated they are.  Here’s some additional “food for thought:”

  • 97.8% of the apples evaluated tested positive for pesticides, and 92% of the apples tested contained two or more types of pesticide residues
  • 96% of celery samples tested positive for pesticides, 90% contained multiple types of pesticides, and one sample had 13 different chemicals on it
  • They found 14 different pesticides on one sample of imported grapes
  • All samples of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides
  • Domestic grapes and strawberries had 13 different pesticides on one sample

So, the next time you are food shopping, remember that the Clean 15 should be safe if purchased conventionally, while you should consider buying organic versions of the Dirty Dozen.  To make things a little easier, here’s a link to a pocket-sized shopper’s guide of the lists:, please don’t forget- good health is contagious, pass it on! 



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave April 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

This is good info, thanks Erica! And fortunately, I like most of the 15… not a big fan of the eggplant.


Erica April 27, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Glad you found it helpful Dave- thanks for reading it! 🙂


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