If it feels like you've been sleepwalking through lockdowns and quarantines for far longer than a year, trust us, you're not alone. We're so ready to take a breath of fresh air sans mask... but as we wait for vaccine rollouts and herd immunity to make that possible, we're doubling down on efforts to boost our immune systems. Getting enough sleep? Check. Reducing stress? Check. Upping our intake of oranges for our daily dose of Vitamin C? Um... maybe not.

At least... not unless the oranges are organic.

As it has every year since 2004, the Environmental Working Group has analyzed data from the FDA and released its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, showing consumers the conventional produce most and least likely to be contaminated with pesticides. And this year, it's also released the ugly data that more than 90 percent of conventional citrus fruits contain carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting fungicides.

The Dirty Dozen

Strawberries top this year’s Dirty Dozen list, as they did in 2020. Next dirtiest is spinach which, on average, had 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop tested. Kale remains in third place, now joined by other leafy greens like collard and mustard greens. Next are nectarines followed by apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, and pears. After being tested for the first time since 2012 and 2011 respectively, bell peppers and hot peppers came in 10th place on the list, with a whopping 115 total pesticides detected – 21 more than the leafy green crops, which had the second highest amount. The dozen is rounded out by tomatoes and celery.

This year, in addition to its trademarked list, EWG highlighted harmful fungicides detected on nearly 90 percent of citrus samples. These include thiabendazole, a known endocrine disruptor, and imazalil, which is also classed by the EPA as a likely human carcinogen. It’s worth noting that these fungicides were found not just on the aromatic rind but also on the edible portion of grapefruit, lemons, mandarins, and oranges. Imported citrus had more fungicides than U.S. grown citrus, an anomaly that EWG scientists say could be linked to increased travel and storage time. This is a good reminder to buy local and organic whenever possible.

These results, while alarming, are far from an indication to stop purchasing and eating fresh fruit, EWG cautions.

“Whether organic or conventionally grown, fruits and vegetables are critical components of a healthy diet,” writes EWG in a recent press release. "However, many crops contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after washing, peeling or scrubbing, which the USDA does before testing each item.”

The Clean Fifteen

When organic is not possible to source, EWG recommends sticking to the Clean Fifteen list, which lists the items of the 46 included in the group’s analysis that are least likely to be contaminated with pesticides. The Clean Fifteen for 2021 include avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, frozen peas, eggplant, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, cauliflower, mushrooms, honeydew, and cantaloupe. Almost 70 percent of Clean Fifteen samples tested had no pesticide residues at all.

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