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The 12 Fruits and Vegetables You Should Always Wash Before Eating

These foods are most likely to contain pesticides, according to data, so bust out the produce wash and get to scrubbin'.

David Watsky Senior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's spent more than a decade covering all things edible, including meal kit services, food subscriptions, kitchen tools and cooking tips. Before, during and after earning his BA from Northeastern, he toiled in nearly every aspect of the food business, including as a line cook in Rhode Island where he once made a steak sandwich for Lamar Odom. Right now he's likely somewhere stress-testing a blender or tinkering with a toaster. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
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David Watsky
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fresh produce

Some fruits and vegetables are far more likely to contain pesticides than others.

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Buying organic groceries means you'll be eating food with fewer pesticides used during cultivation, but some fruits and veggies are far more likely to have traces of chemicals when they get to your grocery store's produce section. 

To help sort the dirties produce from the not-so, food safety nonprofit Environmental Working Group curates a yearly list of the foods most likely to contain pesticides they've dubbed "The Dirty Dozen." The group analyzed 46,569 samples of 46 fruits and vegetables that were tested by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

The No. 1 offender of pesticides in the group's latest study? Strawberries. The popular red berries had more total instances of chemicals found on them than any other fruit or vegetable included in the sweeping analysis.

sugar-strawberries-9680

Strawberries are the produce most likely to have pesticides, according to the study.

Angela Lang/CNET

In general, foods that don't have natural casings or have edible skins such as apples, greens and berries are more likely to contain pesticides. Pieces of produce with commonly removed skin such as avocados and pineapples are far less likely to be tainted. Below you'll find the 12 foods most likely to contain pesticides and the 15 foods least likely to be tainted.

The Dirty Dozen

Foods most likely to contain pesticides, according to FDA and USDA data.

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard and mustard greens
  4. Peaches
  5. Pears
  6. Nectarines
  7. Apples
  8. Grapes
  9. Bell and hot peppers
  10. Cherries
  11. Blueberries
  12. Green beans
Three strawberries dunking into water.

Strawberries, spinach and kale are foods you'd be wise to wash thoroughly before eating.

Mitatzgrzkan/500px/Getty Images

The Dirty Dozen is a good indicator meant to alert consumers to the fruits and vegetables most in need of thorough washing. Even a quick rinse with water or a spritz of produce wash helps. 

You can also sidestep much of the potential risk by buying certified organic fruits and vegetables that are free from the use of farming pesticides. Knowing which foods are more likely to contain pesticides might help you decide where to spend that bit of extra money on organic. And as I learned in an analysis of organic and nonorganic prices, they aren't as expensive as you might think.

hand holding organic asparagus

It doesn't always make sense to splurge on organic produce.

Jupiterimages/Getty

More takeaways from the Dirty Dozen study

  • More than 90% of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and grapes tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
  • A total of 210 different pesticides were found on Dirty Dozen items.
  • Of those 210, over 50 different pesticides were detected on every type of crop on the list, except cherries.
  • Kale, collard and mustard greens, as well as hot peppers and bell peppers, had the most pesticides detected of any crop -- 103 and 101 pesticides in total, respectively.

Conversely, the EWG found these 15 fruits and vegetables Ieast likely to contain pesticides. 

sliced avocado

Foods with naturally occurring protective skin are far less likely to contain potentially harmful pesticides.

Westend 61/Getty Images

The Clean 15

These are the fruits and vegetables least likely to contain pesticides, according to the study:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Mangoes
  13. Sweet Potatoes
  14. Watermelon
  15. Carrots

EWG's methodology involves six measures of pesticide contamination. The analysis focuses on which fruits and vegetables are most likely to contain one or more pesticides but does not measure how much of any one pesticide is on a given piece of produce. You can read more on the EWG's Dirty Dozen in the published study here.