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The 10 Dirtiest Foods in the Produce Aisle, According to an Environmental Watchdog Group

Lea Ceasrine
Peaches and other stone fruits are often sprayed with pesticides.
Peaches and other stone fruits are often sprayed with pesticides. / Jelena990/iStock bia Getty Images
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There’s no such thing as eating too many fruits and vegetables. Aside from just being delicious, fruits and veggies are incredibly nutritious. Incorporating a full spectrum of produce into your diet ensures that you’re getting enough fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals, which support gut health and your immune system and boost hydration.

But roughly 70 percent of fresh produce sold in the U.S. is treated with pesticides, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG). The Environmental Protection Agency has found that consuming or being exposed to pesticides in high concentrations has been linked to endocrine disruption, cancers, and nervous system disorders. (Some scientists have disagreed with the EWG‘s methodology or believe it overstates the risk, however.)

Here are the 10 dirtiest foods in the produce aisle, according to the EWG.

1. Strawberries

A pile of strawberries on a wooden table
RBOZUK/iStock bia Getty Images

Topping the list for the sixth year in a row, strawberries have become known as the most pesticide-sprayed fruit—one reason, perhaps, is that numerous species of insects and pathogens can attack strawberries at several stages of their growth, necessitating heavier spraying of multiple chemicals [PDF]. Testing by the EWG found that 90 percent of strawberries contained at least one pesticide. If strawberries are your fave fruit, try to find organic [PDF] at a local farmer’s market or buy a bag of organic frozen strawberries, which can be a better bang for your buck.

2. Spinach

It’s one of those vegetables that can look a bit sandy at the grocery store, but it may contain pesticide residues that you can’t see. Spinach is a cool-weather crop that is often infested with insects like aphids, which can build up a tolerance to commonly used pesticides, forcing growers to use multiple chemicals [PDF] to eliminate the pests. When you’re buying spinach (even if it says it’s pre-washed) make sure to give the leaves a good soak, like in a vinegar bath, for example.

3. Kale

Curly kale leaves viewed from above
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America’s beloved leafy green has been found to have a high concentration of pesticides, according to the EWG. Kale is susceptible bugs laying their eggs among the curly leaves, as well as fungal attacks, but in some cases the problems can be managed by simply picking the insects and larvae off the kale by hand. Another option for consumers is buying organic [PDF] kale, which is usually is one of the more affordable produce types in the grocery aisle.

4. Nectarines

This sweet summertime stone fruit is a delicate crop at risk from insects, fungal infections, nutrient deficiencies, and more. To protect their trees, growers often spray protective solutions on the trunks and branches, which may seep into the fruit itself. To avoid that scenario, look for a local farm or orchard that might sell non-sprayed nectarines straight to consumers.

5. Apples

Basket of red apples and leaves
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With nearly 8000 growers across the United States, apples are one of America's favorite fruits, but it takes a lot of work to produce picture-perfect galas and Granny Smiths. Apples are attacked by aphids, maggots, and many more pests, and some growers have adopted cultural control practices to reduce the need for pesticides. There are plenty of organic apple orchards and local grocers to buy from. Some apple fans say that chemical-free fruit tastes better and fresher.

6. Grapes

Often called “nature’s candy,” grapes are often one of the most expensive items in the produce aisle. Grapes are typically imported so they end up costing more; and many varieties are susceptible to bugs like phylloxera, which wiped out French vineyards in the late 19th century. Grapes grown organically don’t typically peak until later in the summer—they may be your best best for fruit grown without chemical agents.

7. Bell Peppers and Hot Peppers

Red, yellow, and green bell peppers
archives/iStock via Getty Images

Most of the world’s peppers are produced in Asia. These so-called vegetables, which are botanically categorized as fruits, are typically sprayed with pesticides [PDF] to eliminate mites, leafminers, weevils, and other insects. As a DIY alternative, you can grow bell peppers and hot peppers like jalapeños easily in a backyard, community garden, or flowerpot. You’ll save money over the costs at the grocery store by doing so.

8. Cherries

This tart, tasty fruit is difficult to manage. Cherries are susceptible to many pathogens, and insecticides commonly used to kill pest species can also harm beneficial pollinators. If chemical-free cherries are out of your budget at your local grocery store, you can usually find cheaper frozen organic cherries (which are just as good if you’re making cherry pies).

9. Peaches

Peaches growing on a tree
rathyrye/iStock via Getty Images

This fuzzy stone fruit might look like it has a thick skin, but that doesn’t keep its luscious insides safe from a multitude of moths, beetles, and other pests that injure all parts of the peach tree. As a result, peach farmers often need to spray the crop to achieve an edible product. In the summer months, you can find organic peaches on store shelves, farmers markets, and (if you’re lucky) roadside stands.

10. Pears

Like apples, pears are at the mercy of numerous insects that crawl over the tree's parts and damage the fruit, forcing some growers to apply pesticides. To avoid traces of these solutions, look for pears grown with sustainable, non-chemical pest control methods, such as targeted pruning and minimal fertilization.

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