A Dietitian’s Take On the “Dirty Dozen”

As a registered dietitian nutritionist I get the question all the time: Is it better for me to eat organic versus conventionally grown produce? There’s no doubt that this public debate has been brewing for a long time. For the past 24 years, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit and non-partisan agency, has published an annual “dirty dozen” list of produce that they deem highest in pesticide residue – pitting organic and conventional against one another. However, EWG’s list may lead to unnecessary precautions when purchasing produce. As far as I am concerned, I want you to eat produce – period. Now, research is saying the same thing.

A recent review of the residue sampling data published in Forbes reveals that there are low pesticide residues on all fruits and vegetables – organic and conventional. A deeper dive into the actual numbers revealed some interesting things:

  • 76% of all residue detected on conventional apples and strawberries were so low that they met the standard for residue levels under that organic label
  • 80% of the detected residues on conventional spinach met organic requirements

The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Program allows organic produce to have synthetic residues that are less than 5% of the Environmental Protection Agency’s established safety levels.

So what does that mean for consumers?

There is no decrease in risk if you eat organic versus conventional produce as the residue levels are low in both. Plus, the research showed that touting conventional produce as “dirty” only leads people to fear the dozen fruits and vegetables on the list causing them to eat even less produce. According to the Center for Disease Control, only 1 in 10 people eats enough fruits and vegetables every day as it is. With organic produce often being more expensive and more difficult to find in some parts of the country, this creates an even bigger gap in produce consumption. Kudos to organizations like the Alliance for Food and Farming, which consists of both organic and conventional farmers, for uniting the two produce-producing camps and making the public health message clear that science does not support the “dirty dozen” list.

My hope as a food and nutrition expert, mother and wife is that people will eat all produce with confidence in knowing that it’s safe, nourishing and a vital part of a healthy diet. From a culinary perspective, fruits and vegetables are so versatile and plant-based meals do wonders for keeping your total body healthy for life.

Vicki Shanta Retelny RDN LDN

Vicki Retelny, RDN, LDN

About Victoria

Vicki Shanta Retelny is a lifestyle nutrition expert, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies and culinary consultant who lives in Chicago with her husband, two children and a pet pug. She blogs at

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