Top Produce to Buy Organic

Top Produce to Buy OrganicAs you make lifestyle changes that improve your weight and your overall health, eventually you’ll consider whether or not purchasing organic produce is right for you. Since we recently discussed shopping to eat clean, it makes sense to understand more about the benefits of buying organic produce.

Some people have limited access to organic fruits and vegetables, particularly those which are locally produced and therefore freshest. It can be helpful to understand which fruits and vegetables are the most important to buy organic. We’ll also discuss which choices are safest if you are buying non-organic produce.

Today we’re going to look at the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list – the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues (and other contaminants) which are sold in our local grocery stores.

Top 12 Produce to Buy Organic To Avoid Pesticides, Fungicides and Herbicides

The Environmental Working Group calls these 12 fruits and vegetables the “Dirty Dozen”, when they’re grown non-organically. In descending order of pesticide residues, they are:

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Bell peppers
  8. Nectarines – imported
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas – imported
  12. Potatoes

How to Clean Your Produce

If you must buy these items non-organic, soak them in water containing 5% vinegar OR a teaspoon of sea salt per cup of water OR a small amount of mild dishwashing liquid, and then rinse well, scrubbing gently with a brush when possible. Peel those which can be peeled.

888 million pounds of pesticides are applied each year in the US – nearly 3 pounds per person. Here are some details from the “worst” 10 types of produce.

Apples (including apple juice and apple sauce)

An apple a day keeps us doctors away… or so they say! Apples are a very healthy food choice, packed with antioxidants known as flavonoids, vitamins and fiber. Unfortunately, they lead the list as one of the fruits and vegetables you may want to avoid unless you can buy organic.

Apples grown in the US are frequently coated with a pesticide that’s been banned in the European Union. The pesticide, diphenylamine (DPA), is sprayed on apples after they are harvested to prevent browning. The European Union banned fruits containing more than 0.1 part per million of DPA in March, due to the pesticide’s potential links to cancer.

The United States currently allows 10 parts per million of DPA. An USDA analysis of raw apples in 2010 found DPA on 80 percent of apples tested. The US Environmental Protection Agency has not evaluated the safety of DPA recently, but in a statement in 1997 they found a “reasonable certainty of no harm”.

If that’s not enough cause for concern, more than 40 other pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are approved for use when growing apples.


Pesticide Residues are High in BerriesSixty-five different pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are registered for use on strawberries in the USA. In testing of produce samples which have pesticide residues that exceed allowed tolerance levels, the USDA reports non-organic strawberries more frequently than any other fruit or vegetable. Other, similar berries also tend to be high in pesticide residues.

Grapes, particularly imported (includes raisins)

In particular, avoid grapes imported from Chile, as the US Government requires that all grapes (and other stone fruits) originating there must be sprayed with methyl bromide when they arrive in the US, to prevent insect pests from hitching a ride on the fruit shipments. Methyl bromide is classified as a Toxicity Category 1 compound.

Grapes are also frequently sprayed with fungicide just before shipping to prevent spoilage.

More than 60% of imported raisins (and 30% of domestic ones) have detectable pesticide residues when tested.


Celery has a high water content which makes it adept at pulling plenty of toxins from the soil it is grown in. In FDA tests celery is more likely (82% of samples tested positive) than any other vegetable to contain pesticide residue. Ideally, you will choose organic celery for your green smoothies!


Peaches are similar to nectarines in risk. The USDA identifies 20 different honey bee toxins found in peaches, among 62 total pesticide residues.


More than 60% of the nonorganic spinach tested by the FDA contains pesticide residue, including DDT and other highly toxic pesticides. Sure, spinach is very good for you, if you buy organic.

Bell Peppers

These otherwise healthy vegetables are approved to be grown with over 50 chemicals, including 10 organophosphates. They are typically treated with insecticides two to six times, as well as being sprayed with herbicides, fungicides and more.

Nectarines, particularly imported

Most stone fruits are attractive to insect pests which can include aphids, mites, tent caterpillars, webworms and fruit flies. They’re also attractive to fungi and diseases, so they are often sprayed with pesticides and fungicides on a weekly basis.


The USDA Pesticide Data Program has found 86 different pesticide residues on cucumbers, including 10 known or probable carcinogens, 32 suspected hormone disruptors, 17 neurotoxins and 10 developmental or reproductive toxins.

Cherry Tomatoes

Eating Clean Means Buying Organic If Possible69 Pesticide Residues were found in testing by the USDA Pesticide Data Program

“An average American child gets 5+ servings of pesticide residues in their food and water each day.”

What’s In My Food

To learn more, pick up the book “To Buy Or Not To Buy Organic” by Cindy Burke.

Safest Produce To Buy Non-Organic – The “Clean 15”

These items should still be washed – the USDA tests after washing the produce using high-power pressure water systems. No produce from the “Clean Fifteen” list contained more than four types of pesticides.

  1. avocados
  2. sweet corn
  3. pineapples
  4. cabbage
  5. sweet peas – frozen
  6. onions
  7. asparagus
  8. mangoes
  9. papayas
  10. kiwi fruit
  11. eggplant
  12. grapefruit
  13. cantaloupe
  14. cauliflower
  15. sweet potatoes
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6 Responses to Top Produce to Buy Organic

  1. xTinx September 27, 2014 at 6:30 am #

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve recently started eating healthy. It’s not easy. I mean, most vegetables are not very appetizing and it takes time to prepare them in such a way as to whet your enthusiasm for eating. The list you provided gave me a eureka idea: fruits and vegetables mixed together in a bowl, seasoned with apple cider and olive oil.

  2. RobinTheresa October 11, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Dr Bruce I am so thrilled to find your site. Although I do not live in Hawaii and cannot take advantage of your program I am enjoying the information that I have found here. I have been making small changes in what we purchase at the store now for some time. I have learned that watching labels is very important and am more aware of what I purchase now. My goal has been to eliminate as many processed foods in our diet as possible and to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. I knew that they were covered in pesticides and needed to be washed and have wondered if just running them under tap water was enough. I was so glad to see your suggestion on how to wash produce that comes from the store. I was also encouraged to see which produce was best to purchase organic and what non-organic produce was okay to purchase. I have saved the website “Whats in your Food” to my favorites and will be reviewing that as well. But I was very excited to see your suggestion for the book “To Buy or Not To Buy Organic” by Cindy Burke. I have purchased this and downloaded it to my Kindall app. Thank you so much for the very useful information and for sharing it here on your website. I will be back . Best Wishes to you. RobinTheresa

    • DrBruce November 1, 2014 at 12:51 am #

      I’m so glad you’re finding the articles helpful, RobinTheresa!

  3. RobinTheresa October 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Thank your for the suggestions on how to wash the produce that we purchase. I do wash them and on some of them I use dish soap and then rinse them well. I notice on the apple that when they are washed they have a film still on them. I even took the scrubber to them and still it did not all come off. I have soaked the produce in water for a few minuets but I have never used a vinegar solution on them. That works for the grapes and apples and produce with a hard outer covering or skin. Knowing about the dirty dozen also is helpful. It is difficult to purchase all organic produce because of the cost so this is helpful information. Thank you for including it here. Robin

    • DrBruce November 1, 2014 at 12:44 am #

      You’re very welcome. It’s important to remember that we don’t have to be “perfect” in our attempts to live a healthier lifestyle. Small changes in the right direction can really add up, so it’s important to at least do those things that work with your lifestyle and budget.

  4. FreiFreiFrei December 8, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    My family and I swear that organic food also tastes a bit better than it’s non-organic counterparts. Maybe pesticide residue warps the taste of vegetables and fruits it inhabits? It wouldn’t surprise me, because last I checked bug spray doesn’t taste very good. Ha!

    Spend the few extra cents per pound of veggies, your family and doctor will thank you.

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