Picking Organic Produce

On a budget and not sure what to buy organic at the supermarket? The Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s just-released 9th annual “Dirty Dozen” list documents pesticide contamination for 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data. To ensure the pesticide residues on produce samples were similar than what the public would be exposed to at time of consumption, USDA and FDA scientists peeled and washed the produce samples prior to testing their contamination levels.

Like last year, apples topped the 2013 Dirty Dozen list, followed by strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers. EWG advises consumers to purchase organic varieties of these produce items. For safe, non-organic produce, consumers can follow EWG’s counterpart to the Dirty Dozen, the Clean Fifteen list. Produce on the Clean Fifteen includes onions, pineapples, avocados, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, papayas, mangoes, asparagus, eggplant, kiwi, grapefruit, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and mushrooms. EWG’s free “Dirty Dozen” app for the iPhone and iPad offers a convenient way for shoppers to have both lists handy during grocery trips.

“When given a choice, more consumers are choosing organic fruits and vegetables or using EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to find an easy affordable way to avoid toxic chemicals,” said Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst. “By following EWG’s Shopper’s Guide and advice, consumers can feel confident they can buy foods with consistently lower overall levels of pesticide contamination.”

According to EWG, pesticides are toxic by design and created expressly to kill living organisms — insects, plants and fungi that are considered “pests.” In turn, many pesticides pose health dangers to people and have been linked to brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone disruption, skin, eye and lung irritation. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents more than 60,000 pediatricians, adopted an official position warning doctors and parents that pesticide exposures from food are potentially dangerous to children’s health.

In addition to reducing harmful pesticide exposures, EWG advises going organic to avoid genetically-modified organisms (GMO), which are forbidden to be added to organic foods according to U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. EWG notes that GMO crops likely to be found in produce aisles of American supermarkets are zucchini, Hawaiian papaya and some varieties of sweet corn. While only a small fraction of zucchini and sweet corn are GMO, nearly all of field corn – used to make non-organic tortillas, chips and corn syrup — is produced with genetically modified seeds. Most Hawaiian papaya and non-organic soy is also GMO.