Is the ‘dirty dozen’ spot-on? Your pesticide questions answered.
For 25 years now, a list of fruits and vegetables dubbed the “dirty dozen” has raised questions about pesticides, the safety of our food and our choices in the produce aisle. Every year around this time the list makes headlines, but what are the facts behind the list and what does the science say?
Carl Winter, Ph.D., a toxicologist at the University of California, Davis, explains that for all of us to accurately assess the risks from pesticides, we need to consider three major factors: 1) the amount of residue on the foods; 2) the amount of food consumed; and 3) the toxicity of the pesticides. He says testing methodology for the “dirty dozen” list ignores all three.1
Curious how this translates to foods on the list? Let’s look at a few examples using a pesticide calculator from the Alliance for Food & Farming, a nonprofit group representing organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables and farms of all sizes.
For strawberries, currently No. 1 on the “dirty dozen” list, an adult woman would need to consume 453 servings of strawberries in a single day for pesticide residue levels to have an adverse effect, even if the fruit has the highest pesticide residue ever recorded for strawberries by USDA.
For an adult male who loves spinach, he’d have to consume 1,084 servings in one day for pesticide levels to have an adverse affect
For kale, a teenager would have to eat 14,855 servings in one day for pesticide levels to have an adverse affect.
In other words, each of these examples uses the maximum amount of a pesticide that can be on a raw product and still be considered safe. And while anything in excessive amounts, even water, can cause our bodies harm, the takeaway here is that the risk of overexposure to pesticides is actually very low.
Dietitians and nutritionists worry that lists like the “dirty dozen” discourage all of us from eating fruits and veggies of any kind, when studies show that the vast majority of us don’t consume the recommended amounts of produce daily.
Though pesticides sound scary, they are, in fact, necessary for a reliable, consistent and quality food supply. A pesticide is meant to control a pest (think unwanted bugs, weeds or even diseases) that threatens the crop from growing and maturing.
Given the choice, farmers especially would rather not use pesticides on their crops and produce (they’re expensive to buy, and labor and equipment are needed to apply them). When farmers do have to use pesticides, thanks to modern science, today’s farm chemicals are more effective and have less environmental impact than in previous generations.
Bottom line, know that the U.S. has the safest food supply in the world. Continue to eat and even expand the number of fruits and veggies (after they’ve been properly washed and prepped) in your diet daily.