EWG Releases Its New Dirty Dozen with Surprising Results – 2020

And this year's award for most contaminated goes to... raisins.

image of a hand holding beautiful deep red strawberries. Strawberries are featured in the ewg dirty dozen 2020 list
Credit: Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

The Environmental Working Group has released its latest Dirty Dozen. The list, which EWG has been compiling annually since 2004, highlights the most contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables on the American market based on testing carried out by the USDA and FDA. While strawberries once again top the Dirty Dozen, closely followed by spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, and grapes, perhaps the most surprising contaminated item isn’t featured on the list at all: raisins.

“Because the USDA tested raisins last year for the first time since 2007, we decided to see how they would fare,” explains the EWG. Researchers found that 99 percent of non-organic raisins were tainted with at least two chemicals, making it “the dirtiest produce commodity,” according to the group. Even organic raisins were contaminated, with 91 percent of samples testing positive for residues of at least two pesticides.

About half of the raisins consumed in the U.S. are eaten by children under the age of fifteen, according to Zion Market Research. Since the most commonly detected pesticides on raisins include neonicotinoids, which have been found to harm developing nervous and endocrine systems, this is particularly worrisome, writes Thomas Galligan, Ph.D., Toxicologist, for EWG.

The Dirty Dozen list also includes peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes. The EWG recommends opting for organic whenever possible when it comes to these foods to avoid the likelihood of contamination.

In tandem with the Dirty Dozen, EWG also released its Clean Fifteen list of fruit and vegetables least likely to be contaminated with dangerous pesticides and herbicides. Thick-skinned avocados are the safest food on the list. Sweetcorn, pineapple, onions, and papaya follow. Frozen peas, eggplant, asparagus, cauliflower, cantaloupe, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, honeydew, and mushrooms round out this list. If organic is not an option for whatever reason, these items are the safest in the grocery store, even when purchasing conventional produce.

Nearly 70 percent of the fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains pesticide residues, according to the EWG’s analysis of the latest data from the USDA. The EWG is keen to note that USDA does not test for all chemicals used in crop production. Notably, USDA does not  analyze glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, found by WHO in 2015 to be a probable human carcinogen.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco