Top 12 Dirtiest Fruits and Vegetables

Keep out - We're putting poison on your food. (photo by Jerry Burke)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or perhaps Cuba, you’ve probably heard that buying organic produce is better.
The most important reason to buy organic is to avoid exposure to the toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers used to grow commercial produce these days.

In case you’re wondering, pesticides have been linked to some serious health problems like Cancer, Birth Defects, Parkinson’s, Asthma, Autism, ADHD, and more.

A noticeable benefit to eating organic produce is that it often tastes better, even though it may not look as pretty. Some studies have shown that it can also have higher nutrient content.

Since 1990, the US Department of Agriculture has designated an Organic Certification for food grown without synthetic or toxic chemicals or fertilizers, genetic engineering, radiation, or sewage fertilizer.

Fun Facts!

-Genetically Modified Food (GMO) does not have to be labeled as genetically modified food.

-Processed food (like Organic Macaroni) is only required to have over 50% organic ingredients to carry the “certified organic” label.

Why is organic so expensive?

It costs farmers more money to grow organically.   The crops take longer to grow and are smaller.  Basically they produce less crops for the same amount of effort, which is why it costs more in a grocery store.  You’re paying for quality, not quantity.  Having said that, it’s usually cheaper to buy what’s in season, and always cheaper to buy directly from local farmers at a Farmers Market.

Here’s a picture of today’s modern farmer using weed-killer “Lasso”  made by Monsanto, the company responsible for wonderful products like Saccharin, Agent Orange, Polystyrene, PCBs, Round-Up and GMO seeds.

Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes a report of the most pesticide contaminated produce.

According to their 2010 report, you can lower your pesticide exposure by nearly 80% by simply avoiding the top 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables.

These rankings are based on the pesticide levels reported by the FDA and USDA Pesticide Testing Program.
The metrics used to compile their list are here.

Generally produce with thin skin (like celery) is more apt to absorb pesticides than produce with thicker skin (like an avocado).
Note:  All the produce was washed before it was tested.  Here’s the list:


Produce you really need to buy organic

(Listed in order of worst to least, but they’re all bad)

Bell Peppers
Kale/Collard Greens
Grapes (Imported)


Relatively clean produce that isn’t critical to buy organic

(Listed in order of cleanest to dirtiest, but they are still the top 15 cleanest)

Sweet Corn (clean but not very healthy, skip it)
Sweet Peas
Sweet Potato
Honeydew Melon

You can see the complete list of 49 here.

When in doubt check the label

Organic produce will have a five digit sku on the sticker, conventional produce only has a four digit sku.

I snapped a pic of an organic plum (94040) and a conventional red onion (4082) below.

This book, written in 1962, is one of the most influential books about the ecological damage and toxic effects of chemically treated produce.  It was a major catalyst in the environmental and organic produce movement.

Cool Free Stuff!

You can download a wallet size version of the Clean/Dirty list here, or a nifty little iPhone app here!


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11 Responses to “Top 12 Dirtiest Fruits and Vegetables”
  1. Austin says:

    Great word Chris.
    I just found out about you story and your site a few days ago.
    Thanks for taking the time to share with others.
    You may literally be saving lives.

    You’ve probably seen this but it was a funny film about “the Organic Rebellion”.

  2. Alley says:

    I know a farmers market is the best bet for produce, but where can you go to get meat that is ‘suitable’ to eat in the public. I found several farms in my area that will sell their meat to you, but u have to buy it all in bulk and place orders months in advance. its so frustrating. I feel so strongly on this subject and I love how you talk about Food Inc. its simply amazing!

    • Hey Alley! Of course health food store like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have clean meat, but also my local farmers markets have meat producers there selling free-range organic, grass fed beef, pork, and chicken in any size portion you want. From what I understand that’s pretty common. Are there not any at your local market?

      • Alley says:

        I havent been to the new one the built in the next town over, i will have to check it out. its just called the farmers market and i have never heard of them having meat. I found someone online and they have a farm close to here, but they want around $500 for just a quarter of a cow. im gunna have to pass…

  3. Will says:

    I literally just finished crunching down a delicious piece of celery (non organic of course) only to find that it tops the dirty list.

    Chris, this stuff is so informative and helpful. I really enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Revolutions Memphis says:

    i have an allergy that prevents me from eating any conventional fruits, vegetables or nuts. i spent about 15 years without eating that stuff until i realized i could eat organic and it wouldn’t bother me. i hate that it’s more expensive, but at least i can eat it now!

    any Memphians know where to buy organic fruits, vegetables and nuts besides Whole Foods and Fresh Market?

    • Yo Adam the local farmers markets are your best bet.
      The Memphis Farmer’s Market downtown is the biggest.
      The closest one to you is the Cooper Young Farmers Market is every saturday morning at First Congo.
      There’s also one wednesday mornings at Botanic Gardens.


  5. Barbara Kilpper says:


    It’s amazing to me how many people look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I only buy organic. We live in the only country in the world where you’d have to try to convince people that conventional produce which is raised with pesticides is a bad thing. Granted, I live in Texas, but still……………..even the more intelligent people I know act suspicious of organic. I just can’t figure it out. Do they think it’s a gimmick to say something is grown organically or have they just been so brainwashed that they can’t see the truth? Never ceases to amaze me.

    Anyway, thanks for imparting your expertise.


    • Hi Barbara, you’re not alone! I deal with the same stuff here in Tennessee.
      Just the other day a family member tried to make fun of us for grilling grass fed organic beef burgers.
      But I understand it.
      It really is hard to believe that the chemicals they put on our food are that toxic, but they are.
      I think a lot of folks would just rather not know.
      Ignorance is bliss right?



  6. Jim says:

    There was an article in the local paper – the Commercial Appeal (probably off of the AP wire) – about how organic food didn’t rot as quickly, tasted better, and tested higher in anti-oxidants. I think they tested strawberries.

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