The Dirty Dozen – Minimising Your Pesticide Exposure

The Dirty Dozen - Alyse Cocliff - An Apple a Day

If you’re tossing up whether or not to buy organic produce, the easiest answer may just be buying the right ones. Confused, let’s talk more about ‘The Dirty Dozen’.

The Dirty Dozen

Each year the (EWG) ranks fresh fruit and vegetables based on the levels of pesticide residue contained on/within the produce. They do this by combining six different measures of contamination to come up with a composite score for each type of produce. This includes:

  1. Percent of samples tested that had detectable pesticides
  2. Percent of samples that had two or more pesticides
  3. Average number of pesticides found on a sample
  4. Average amount (in parts per million) of all pesticides found
  5. Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
  6. Total number of pesticides found on the commodity

The result? The Dirty Dozen.

The Dirty Dozen - An Apple a Day - Alyse Co-cliff

According to reports, the most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticide residues, whilst spinach samples had an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Nice.

Now before we get carried away, we need to know that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) disagree with the validity of the EWG’s list. Forming the basis of their argument is a 2011 study, by University of California which found that apples contained a level of pesticide 787 times lower than the United States Department of Agriculture’s maximum residue limits hence, the data of the above list is skewed. I beg to differ here, given the EWG never states the above fruits and vegetables are within/outside safe levels of exposure, but that’s my personal opinion. They also state that we use different herbicides and pesticides here in Australia, something I struggle to come to terms with given the “Big 6” companies (BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto, and Syngenta) control the global marketplace for pesticides and crop biotechnology, but hey I could be wrong.

So what do we do?

If you look closely, you’ll notice that there is a trend in the list above – these fruit and vegetables lack  a protective outer peel. If you’re looking to reduce your exposure to pesticides as a whole, then opting for organic fruits and vegetables on such items may be an option.

Also, regardless of your fruit and vegetable choices, always Wash your fruit and vegetables thoroughly. 

If you are looking for the opposing list of of “The Dirty Dozen’, you can read all about the Clean 15 here.



  1. What's in Season: November | An Apple a day - […] and can’t afford to buy all of your produce organically, check out the following posts: The Dirty Dozen and…
  2. How to Save Money at the Farmer's Market - An Apple a Day - […] The Environmental Working Group (EWG) ranks conventional produce (i.e. non-organic fruits and vegetables), from highest pesticide residue, to lowest…
  3. The Clean 15 - 15 Foods You DON'T Have To Buy Organic - […] those of you who missed yesterday’s post, I discussed the 12 highest ranking fruits and vegetables in terms of…

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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.