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2022 ‘Dirty Dozen’: produce with the most pesticides

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Suzanne Potter

(California News Service) An annual list of best and worst produce, in terms of pesticide residue, is out - and strawberries, spinach, kale, and collard and mustard greens top the list.

The 2022 "Dirty Dozen" from the Environmental Working Group also include nectarines, apples, grapes, peppers, cherries, peaches, pears, celery and tomatoes. Sydney Swanson, a healthy-living science analyst for the group, said the data comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on 45,000 produce samples.

"This year, we did find that over 70 percent of conventional produce sold in the United States was contaminated with pesticides," she said. "While everything tested was within legal limits, we believe that 'legal' does not mean 'safe.'"

Farmers have said they only apply pesticides approved by the feds. EWG said people should still eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but recommends they choose organic produce. Last year, the Biden administration reinstated an Obama-era ban on the notorious pesticide chlorpyrifos, a ban that was lifted during the Trump years.

Swanson said people should wash all fruits and vegetables, but noted that the USDA also washes the produce samples before testing them. 

"The USDA washes them and prepares them the exact same way that a consumer would prepare them at home," she said, "and they test it that way. So, the pesticide residue that we would be exposed to is the same amount that the USDA is detecting."

The group also publishes a list of produce it calls the "Clean Fifteen" - on which almost 70 percent of samples had no detectable pesticide residues. That list includes, starting with the cleanest: avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, frozen sweet peas, asparagus, honeydew, kiwis, cabbage, mushrooms, cantaloupe, mangoes, watermelon and sweet potatoes.