Should we eat organic fruits and vegetables? And which products are most likely to contain toxic pesticides?

We all know that conventional fruits and vegetables contain pesticide residues. In theory, those pesticides should be kept below levels that would harm our health. In reality, some produce still contains residues of pesticides that are considered hazardous.

In the US, a list is published every year known as the “Dirty Dozen,” which includes the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, along with another list called the “Clean 15,” with the products with fewer pesticide residues.

In the European Union, it is more difficult to find that information. Pesticide Action Network published a report in 2022 called Forbidden Fruit,* which focuses on the residues of pesticides defined as “more hazardous” by the European Commission. These pesticides contain dangerous substances that belong to a group labelled by the EU ‘Candidates for Substitution’. This means that EU countries must substitute these ‘Candidates for Substitution’ in pesticides with safer alternatives, until they are gradually phased out.

According to the report, the 12 sampled fruits and vegetables most contaminated with those more hazardous pesticides (the EU “Dirty Dozen”) were:

 

  1. Blackberries (51%**)
  2. Celery (50%)
  3. Celeriac (45%)
  4. Peaches (45%)
  5. Strawberries (38%)
  6. Cherries (35%)
  7. Apricots (35%)
  8. Pears (33%)
  9. Grapes (33%)
  10. Raspberries (32%),
  11. Kale (31%)
  12. Chicory (Belgian endive) (28%)

 

Ideally, we should buy these organic.

The 15 sampled fruits and vegetables least contaminated with those pesticides (our “Clean 15”) were:

  1. Mangoes (2%*)
  2. Pineapples (2%)
  3. Watermelons (2%)
  4. Kohlrabies (German turnip) (2%)
  5. Pumpkins (2%)
  6. Shallots (2%)
  7. Cauliflowers (1%)
  8. Avocados (1%)
  9. Bananas (1%)
  10. Onions (1%)
  11. Beetroots (1%)
  12. Potatoes (1%)
  13. Asparagus (1%)
  14. Sweet corn (0%)
  15. Rhubarbs (0%)

Therefore, you can buy conventional produce for those 15 fruits and vegetables without worrying too much about pesticides.

Please bear in mind that these are the data for fruit & veg produced in the European Union. If you buy produce imported from outside the EU, the data could be very different.

In terms of countries, the EU Member States whose products had the highest frequency of contamination during the study years were:

  • Belgium (34%)
  • Ireland (26%)
  • France (22%)
  • Italy (21%)
  • Germany (20%)
  • Spain (19%) and
  • Netherlands (19%).

However, if you can’t buy organic fruit and vegetables, remember that the benefits of consuming conventional produce generally outweigh the potential risks. This list is intended to provide you with information if you’d like to reduce your exposure to pesticides. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying lots of fruit and vegetables!

* https://www.pan-europe.info/resources/reports/2022/05/forbidden-fruit-dramatic-rise-dangerous-pesticides-found-fruits-and

** % of tested samples that were contaminated with those pesticides.