Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables

Our stores are stocked with a bountiful array of attractive fruits and vegetables – and we are told that eating them contributes to good health. That is true, after a fashion. It is true if they are natural fruits and vegetables, i.e., grown without poisonous pesticides. There’s the rub!

The beauty of fruits and vegetables is a clue to an invisible danger. The absence of any blemishes is a sure sign that they have been sprayed with pesticides, often, several pesticides. Too much beauty is a warning sign. Do I exaggerate? I think not. Monterey County of California, where I live, is the strawberry capital of the country (as it is for artichokes and brussel sprouts), and I see the crops being repeatedly sprayed. Perhaps it is done according to USDA guidelines, but then again, for advantage in the market, perhaps not. Local strawberries are sprayed with Captan, Malathion, Sodium Meta, and Potassium Meta – all known or suspected carcinogens.

The Environmental Working Group has done us a favor by tabulating measured residues.

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Dirty Dozen: #1 has most pesticide

1  Apples         2  Celery          3  Strawberries
4  Peaches        5  Spinach         6  Nectarines– imported
7  Grapes – imported    8  Sweet bell peppers   9  Potatoes
10  Blueberries (domestic)         11  Lettuce       12  Kale/collard greens

Clean 15: Lowest in Pesticide #1 has least pesticide

1  Onions         2  Sweet Corn   3  Pineapples     4  Avocado
5  Asparagus     6  Sweet peas              7  Mangoes       8  Eggplant
9  Cantaloupe – domestic           10  Kiwi            11  Cabbage
12  Watermelon            13  Sweet potatoes       14  Grapefruit
15  Mushrooms

You may ask, “What kind of pesticides are on these?”

Types of Pesticide Residues in Five Fruits

FRUIT Known or probable carcinogens Suspected hormone disruptors Neurotoxins Developmental or reproductive toxins
Apples 7 19 10 6
Strawberries 9 24 11 12
Peaches 10 29 12 11
Nectarines 7 19 9 6
Blueberries 8 24 14


(Note that crops are not typically sprayed with dozens of pesticides. Different regions of the country use different pesticides and the above figures represent the sum of all regions. Moreover, most pesticides have more than one detrimental health effect, and therefore appear in several columns.)

What can we conclude? Buy organics wherever they are available to you, and the extra cost is not excessive. Otherwise, buy from the bottom of the list, that is, those with the least amount of pesticide residues. A list of all 53 food items is on EWG’s web site.


About donlouis

The author has long had a keen interest in staying healthy and fit, and in doing whatever I can to keep the natural environment unpolluted and a healthy space for people and all animals. As a former Board Member of a municipal water district, I regularly had to deal with the issue of water quality. I first became aware of radiation hazards from toxic materials while working on uranium for nuclear reactors. During the 1960s I was tuned into the global hazard from Strontium 90 raining down from atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. While working in the chemical industry in later years I became aware of the many forms of chemical contaminants entering the environment every day, and resolved to do something about it. I am able to make sense out of the voluminous descriptions of common toxic chemical because of my training in chemistry, with a Ph.D. degree and several decades of research and development work in the chemical industry. My training and experience enables me to present to readers reliable and current information on the topic of chemical hazards in the environment, and their threats to human health. All my life I have loved hiking and camping in nature. Skiing, river kayaking, and tennis have been my favorite physical activities. Nature photography is my artistic passion.
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