Grow your own vegetables when you can, especially those that appear on the “dirty dozen” list: sweet bell peppers, celery and strawberries

Unless you grow your own or buy organic, you can be fairly sure that the canned, frozen, and fresh fruits and vegetables you drop into your shopping cart have been sprayed with chemicals. The tantalizing bins of lemons and oranges, apples and bananas, mounds of melons, green beans, and colorful peppers come to our local grocery store from all over the world. Regardless of the source, most conventional farmers rely on pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to increase their crop yields and provide blemish-free products. It’s hard to know what’s safe to feed our families.

To help consumers make informed choices, a nonprofit research group, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), published a “Dirty Dozen” list and a “Consistently Clean” list for fruits and vegetables. The lists are based on nearly 43,000 pesticide residue tests conducted on fruits and vegetables between 2000 and 2004 by the USDA and Federal Drug Administration (FDA). By avoiding the most contaminated products, consumers can sidestep 90% of their potential pesticide exposure from produce.

Eating conventionally produced products on the Dirty Dozen list, including peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery and strawberries, can contribute as many as 15 different pesticides to your diet per day. The 12 cleanest include onions, sweet corn, cabbage and broccoli, which contribute fewer than two. To read more and find the complete lists, visit the Environmental Working Group’s web site.

-Ann Whitman, Staff Horticulturist