What is “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15”?

Maybe you have heard about “Dirty Dozen” before but were never sure what it meant. The Dirty Dozen refers to twelve crops that feature the highest amounts of pesticide residue. The “Dirty Dozen” is published each year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The list is based on analysis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report, which is published annually.

The group released its new “Dirty Dozen” list including following crops with the most pesticide residue:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers

EWG also released their “Clean 15” list, which include the crops with least pesticide residue.

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbages
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplants
  11. Honeydews
  12. Kiwis
  13. Cantaloupes
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Broccoli


First, all pesticides require approval before being released, sold and used by farmers. All pesticides are regulated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). They have a rigorous process that requires the product to be safe with no risk on human health. Through this process, pesticide labels are constructed which is the law and anyone who use them must follow. Then the EPA sets the tolerance levels for residues for each pesticide on food. The tolerance level referee to amount of reside that cause no harm to human health based on how much a person is exposed. USDA regularly test foods at multiple locations across the country to check if the pesticide residue is below the tolerance level.

According to the PDP, 99.5% of sample tested had residue below the EPA’s established tolerances, and 58% had no detectable pesticide residue. Click here to read a consumer fact sheet about the PDP. So, should you be worried about the list?

Lets back to the “Dirty Dozen” list. This list does not show anything about how much of any of the pesticides are detected on the produce or how much risk they have on our health. So according to EWG, if 10 pesticides are found at 1,000 times lower the tolerance determined by EPA, then that fruit is considered dirty, while another produce that has only one pesticide residue 100 times lower the tolerance limit, it is clean. Overall the amount of residue on our food is very small and has very low risk on our health based on amount of residue and amount of fruits and vegetables we eat every day. For example, one adult need to eat 454 serving of strawberries in one day to be at risk of any pesticide residue. So “Dirty Dozen” list does not accurately show the risk of pesticide residue from eating fruits and vegetables on our health. The risk of not eating fruits and vegetables is much more than concerning about pesticide residue.

So, the next time you go to the grocery to shop for fruits and vegetables, take anything that you like, regardless of it is organic or conventional or it is on the “Dirty Dozen” list or “clean 15”.

It is very important to realize that both natural and synthetic pesticides and fungicides are used in organic agriculture. Oh, you did not know that. I am sorry. I will talk about that in my next blog.




Avatar photo
Posted: May 14, 2019

Category: Agriculture
Tags: #pesticide, Avocados, Conventional Farming, EPA, Human Health, Organic Farming, USDA

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories