Updated Dirty Dozen & Clean 15: When To Buy Organic

POSTED IN: Food + Nutrition

Updated Dirty Dozen & Clean 15: When To Buy Organic

People often ask me if I always buy everything organic. I’ll be the first to tell you that health coaches definitely aren’t always perfect.

While I try my best to do mostly organic, it’s just about impossible to only eat foods labeled organic. Plus, when it comes to produce, it’s not always necessary.

What really matters is how the food was grown. Some smaller farms use all organic practices but haven’t gone through the full organic certification process yet because it can be expensive for a small business. Get to know your local farms and stands and the farmers’ market and ask about the farm’s practices.

You may have heard of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, but you might not know that the lists are updated each year.

When shopping at traditional grocery stores, I use the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists to choose what produce I’ll buy organic.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. They research what’s in our tap water, the safety of our cosmetics, genetically modified organisms (GMO / GE), and the amounts of pesticides in and on our food, among other things.

Clean 15 Dirty Dozen When To Buy Organic

The EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ (aka Dirty Dozen and Clean 15) is updated each year and ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables. The guide is based on results of more than 35,200 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

The top 15 foods with the least pesticides are called the Clean 15, while the 12 foods with the most pesticides are called the Dirty Dozen. These lists are fantastic to take with you on your shopping trips to know when to buy organic and when it’s ok to buy conventional.

And lucky for us, avocados are at the top of the clean list!

The Dirty Dozen (2019)

Buy these organic whenever possible – Updated 2019

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes
    +EWG’s Dirty Dozen Plus:
  13. Hot Peppers +

The Clean 15 (2019)

These are ok to buy conventional (not organic) – Updated 2019

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn*
  3. Pineapples
  4. Sweet Peas Frozen
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas*
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew Melons

* Per the EWG, a small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from Genetically Engineered (GE) seed stock. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid Genetically Engineered produce. I personally buy these organic.

You can read and download the full EWG report and lists here. Here are the highlights of the key findings:

2019 Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 Key Findings Summary

  • Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • More than 70 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.
  • With the exception of cabbage, all other produce on the Clean Fifteen tested positive for less than four pesticides.
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 6 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.

If you read the full EWG report of all the foods you’ll notice that a few common foods like bananas and carrots fall somewhere in the middle. I typically buy organic for these types of foods. If something seems abnormally high in price, I might just substitute it with something that’s in season and a lower price; for instance, fresh organic blueberries will be very expensive in November, whereas fresh organic apples will be a better price because they’re a fall food. Always just do the best you can when it comes to the quality of your food; I’m a firm believer that fresh produce is always better than no produce.

Keep in mind, washing produce doesn’t necessarily get rid of all pesticides and chemicals as it grows into the entire plant, but it can reduce your risk and exposure so be sure to always wash everything thoroughly. High costs are also a reason that I love frozen fruits and veggies–they end to be a better price and keep for months in the refrigerator. I almost always have frozen organic blueberries from Costco in my freezer for smoothies and other treats.

I suggest keeping these lists on your phone or printing them off to take to the store with you. I have them saved in a note on the Notes app on my iPhone for quick and easy access.

Happy Shopping!

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17 Comments...
  • Meg

    Elizabeth I wondered if it would help soaking vegetables in epsom salts? It is suggested to bathe in it yourself if you are detoxing and wondered if it would work to mitigate chemicals in our food?

  • Danielle

    When these foods are tested, do they just test the outside or the entire fruit and veggie? Is there an article that explains their methodology and results?

  • Jodi Goldstein

    Thank you. Although my husband and I raised two kids with Healthy nutrition in the 80s we both ended up with cancer. Now in our 60s planning meals is like a chemistry lesson! We both struggle with gout so we need low purines I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis so I have to be careful with cruciferous vegetables and raw at that!! Then there are night-shade’s. I’ve had arthritis and gout since I was 15 and now my husband , who is a musician , seems to be developing it in his hands. Can you recommend a cookbook or a site I could go to that would cover all these issues? I do use Sally Fallon’s ,Nourishing Traditions along with Healing with Whole Foods and the New Yiddish cookbook. Great books all, thank you for your time and energy, Jodi G

  • Noticed that sweet bell peppers are not on the clean nor dirty list? Were they not often on the dirty list?

    • Hi Sur, I think they used to be, but it changes each year. You can head over to the EWG report (linked above in the post) to see where they stand now. ~E

  • Karen

    Your blog and recipes look so interesting! Is there a way that you could support the ability to print out an article or a recipe in a direct and simple concise way? I did find one print button on the chicken bone broth but that still would only print out in a very broken pattern with much unneeded material. Thank you.

  • Hello Elizabeth

    Any idea why broccoli is considered clean? Bananas and avocados make sense, pesticide can’t penetrate thick peels. But how did broccoli make the clean list and do you recommend buying organic?

  • Cammie Noel

    What about bio sludge the effect on non organic produce ? I can’t seem to find any info on that

  • Hello. Did you know that you wouldn’t have to have 13 items in your dirty “dozen” if you didn’t list grapes twice. Dozen 12 not 13!! A simple glance at what you just listed would have allowed you to keep it a dozen.

  • Liz Ferguson

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I am hosting an online show titled “Wellness your Way – Take charge of your health to increase your energy, lose weight and feel great!” Your work fits so well with the theme of my show. Would you be interested in being a speaker? if so, can we talk briefly so I can give you more details?

    Thanks, Liz

  • vikky

    I’m so happy I just found your post. As we live on a tropic Island it’s hard work for us//not that easy to get No-GMO and pesticide-free veggies and fruits. So finding your list is very precious for us. . Thank you so much for this info. Just we have some questions….still.
    Which one list belong “Purple Cabbage” in? The same for red onion? Looking forwards for your reaction. Thanks

  • vikky

    I’m so happy I just found your post. As we live on a tropic Island it’s hard work for us//not that easy to get No-GMO and pesticide-free veggies. So finding your list is very precious for us, . thank you so much for this. Just we have some questions….still.
    Which one list belong “Purple Cabbage” in? The same for red onion? Looking forwards for your reaction. Thanks

  • Diana

    The EWG also puts out a free app with both sets of lists! It’s called “Dirty Dozen”!

  • Marcie Desmond

    Great article Elizabeth. Question about grapes – I have been assuming that since grapes are on the dirty dozen, I should strive to only drink organic wine. Is that true or is there anything in the process of making wine that would make that unnecessary?

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