Pesticides: The Truth About The Dirty 12 and The Clean 15

Pesticides: The truth about the clean 15 and the dirty 12


Pesticides: The Truth About

The Dirty 12 and The Clean 15

The Pesticide Data Program (PDP) is a national pesticide residue monitoring program in the United States. The PDP produces the most comprehensive pesticide residue database and is known to monitor all sampling and reporting of pesticide residues in agricultural products in the US food supply. Although the system seems to have many holes and does not guarantee complete transparency in the chemicals found in food, the PDP is very important in limiting the number of pesticide residues. The PDP enables the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess dietary exposure, and provide guidance for the US Food and Drug Administration (USDA) to make informed decisions on the food products that are sold in the food industry. Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases two freshly updated lists, based on an analysis of the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program Report. These lists are a great source for helping consumers like us know when they should prioritize buying organic and when it is unnecessary. However, there are many different variables that seem to be getting ignored in these opposing lists, unfortunately. 

The Dirty Dozen list consists of the top 12 foods that are more susceptible to toxic contamination in the agricultural food system, and have high traces of pesticide residue. It is encouraged to source food under this list responsibly and organically. The fruits and veggies that fell under this list in 2018 are: Strawberries, Spinach, Nectarines, Apples, Grapes, Peaches, Cherries, Pears, Tomatoes, Celery, Potatoes, and Sweet Bell Peppers.

The Clean Fifteen are the top 15 foods that are generally considered safe to buy inorganic according to EWG, and often do not contain as many toxic contaminants. The fruits and veggies that fell under this list in 2018 are: Avocado, Sweet Corn, Pineapple, Cabbage, Onion, Sweet Peas, Papaya, Asparagus, Mango, Eggplant, Honeydew, Kiwi, Cantaloupe, Cauliflower, and Broccoli.

One important factor that EWG is ignoring is that some pesticides are drastically more toxic than others. EWG's scoring system considers all pesticides to be equal, and they don't relate the pesticide amounts to known safety standards. The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are largely based on how many different pesticide residues are found on samples from each crop. What these lists don’t factor in is the relative safety or toxicity of the pesticides detected. In other words, a crop that has residues from seven pesticides could rank “dirtier” than a crop with three pesticides, even if those three pesticides have greater potential health risks. 

Another important factor that keeps the health conscious community skeptical is that EWG seems to almost suggest that the Clean Fifteen list should be viewed as 100% safe. In reality, the Clean Fifteen is produce that have less of a chance of being as contaminated as the Dirty Dozen. It’s important to use the same safety protocols for produce that fall under the Clean Fifteen umbrella, including washing the produce efficiently and sourcing organically as much as possible. Foods that are categorized under the Clean Fifteen list does not mean it has a sticker of approval by the PDP, claiming they are free of the risks of contamination.

The bottom line is consumers like you and I want to have a choice on whether to avoid pesticide exposure at any level. Although the PDP and the USDA’s efforts to keep Americans safe from high levels of chemical residues in food is genuine, the limits themselves need to be thoroughly re-examined and reestablished. There is not yet a solution to the uncertainty that the regulatory system reflects, so consumers are left in the dark. We need to have access to professional lab tests on chemical contaminants in food that we consume every day for the safeguarding of our health. The TestSharing platform does exactly this and understands the global need for transparency when it comes to food. TestSharing is one step in giving consumers like us the access we deserve to make our own decisions on what we want in our bodies.