The 2018 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

by Amylee Amos PhD, RDN, IFMCPNews
Box of fresh strawberries

Each year the Environmental Working Group comes out with the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. They research the quantities and types of pesticides on our produce, giving us the tools we need to be educated consumers.

2018’s list is out- and we’ve got the info that you need when deciding what types of produce to purchase organic. Of course, in a perfect world we recommend that you only purchase organic produce. But sometimes certain items are hard to find organic, or the higher cost of organic produce can be burdensome. Stick with these lists from the EWG to make sure you’re avoiding the produce that is especially contaminated with pesticides.

The Dirty Dozen

These are the most pesticide riddled produce (so you should be buying organic!):

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • (Hot Peppers)

The Clean Fifteen

These fruits and veggies had the lowest levels of pesticide residue. If you need to buy some conventionally grown items, make sure these are the only ones you choose:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn*
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbages
  • Onions
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Papayas*
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplants
  • Honeydew Melons
  • Kiwis
  • Cantaloupes
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli

*Note that corn and papaya are often genetically modified. If you are trying to avoid GMO foods, you should also purchase these items organic.

Here are some of the highlights:

For the third year in a row, strawberries are at the top of the list. Even if you wash pesticide riddled produce, many of these toxic pesticides remain, but strawberries are nearly impossible to properly clean anyways. Make sure you’re only buying and consuming organic strawberries. Spinach was second on the dirty dozen list, with results showing high levels of permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide. While normally leafy greens are beneficial for cognitive health, in this case non-organic spinach may be detrimental- so make sure you’re only eating organic spinach. The results this year again showed that conventional apples contained diphenylamine, which is a compound that keeps apples from browning. Diphenylamine breaks down into highly carcinogenic compounds, which have also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, diphenylamine is banned in Europe and the European Union banned the import of American apples in 2012 for this reason.

Additionally, beware of sweet corn and papayas, which are often genetically modified. GMO produce are often sprayed with glyphosate, a patented antibiotic.  To be on the safe side, make sure you’re purchasing organic versions of these items too.

Our advice is to purchase as much of your produce organic as possible. Normally, it’s easy to control this when doing your grocery shopping. It gets trickier when you’re eating out. It’s hard to know at restaurants or other food establishments what is and what is not organic. This is when the Dirty Dozen becomes especially important. Screenshot the list of Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce so that you can make a more educated decision the next time you’re eating out.


Lunder, S. (2018, April 10). EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved from:

Pizzorno, J. (2018). The toxin solution. New York, NY: Harper Collins