The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides

The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides ranks pesticide contamination for 47 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 87,000 tests for pesticides on these foods, conducted from 2000 to 2007 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Nearly all the studies used to create the list test produce after it has been rinsed or peeled. Contamination was measured in six different ways and crops were ranked based on a composite score from all categories.
The six measures of contamination we used were:

  • Percent of the samples tested with detectable pesticides
  • Percent of the samples with two or more pesticides
  • Average number of pesticides found on a sample
  • Average amount (level in parts per million) of all pesticides found
  • Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • Number of pesticides found on the commodity in total

The philosophy behind the guide is simple: give consumers the information they need to make choices to reduce pesticides in their diets. In this spirit, the Guide does not present a complex assessment of pesticide risks, but instead simply reflects the overall load of pesticides found on commonly eaten fruits and vegetables. This approach best captures the uncertainty of the risks of pesticide exposure and the value judgments involved in the choice to buy food with less pesticides.

Pesticides cause many adverse effects in well designed animal studies, from cancer to nervous system damage to reproductive effects. Rather than assign more weight to cancer than birth defects, we simply assumed that all adverse effects are equal. There is a significant degree of uncertainty about the health effects of pesticide mixtures. This ranking takes this uncertainty into account in the most defensible way possible, by simply ranking fruits and vegetables by their likelihood of being consistently contaminated with the greatest number of pesticides at the highest levels.

The produce listed in the Guide was chosen after an analysis of USDA food consumption data from 1994-1996. The 47 selected were those reported eaten on at least one tenth of one percent of all "eating days" in the survey and with a minimum of 100 pesticide test results from the years 2000 to 2007. An eating day is one day of food consumption reported to USDA by one individual, some of whom were followed for three days.

Conventionally grown food is also typically tainted with a multitude of chemical residues, including chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides.
These chemical concoctions can cause a wide variety of health problems, including:

1. Neurotoxicity
2. Disruption of your endocrine system
3. Cancer
4. Immune system suppression
5. Male infertility and miscarriages in women

The Full List: 47 Fruits and Veggies

Here is a ranking of 47 different fruits and vegetables, but grapes are listed twice because both domestic and imported samples were reviewed.

1 (worst) Peach 100 (highest pesticide load)
2 Apple 93
3 Sweet Bell Pepper 83
4 Celery 82
5 Nectarine 81
6 Strawberries 80
7 Cherries 73
8 Kale 69
9 Lettuce 67
10 Grapes - Imported 66
11 Carrot 63
12 Pear 63
13 Collard Greens 60
14 Spinach 58
15 Potato 56
16 Green Beans 53
17 Summer Squash 53
18 Pepper 51
19 Cucumber 50
20 Raspberries 46
21 Grapes - Domestic 44
22 Plum 44
23 Orange 44
24 Cauliflower 39
25 Tangerine 37
26 Mushrooms 36
27 Banana 34
28 Winter Squash 34
29 Cantaloupe 33
30 Cranberries 33
31 Honeydew Melon 30
32 Grapefruit 29
33 Sweet Potato 29
34 Tomato 29
35 Broccoli 28
36 Watermelon 26
37 Papaya 20
38 Eggplant 20
39 Cabbage 17
40 Kiwi 13
41 Sweet Peas - Frozen 10
42 Asparagus 10
43 Mango 9
44 Pineapple 7
45 Sweet Corn -Frozen 2
46 Avocado 1
47 (best) Onion 1 (lowest pesticide load)