Apples are at the top of the list of produce most contaminated with pesticides in a report published today by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health advocacy group.
Its seventh annual report analyzed government data on 53 fruits and vegetables, identifying which have the most and least pesticides after washing and peeling. For produce found to be highest in pesticides, the group recommends buying organic.
Apples moved up three spots from last year, replacing celery at the top of the most-contaminated list; 92% of apples contained two or more pesticides.
"We think what's happening to apples is more pesticides and fungicides are being applied after the harvest so the fruit can have a longer shelf life," says EWG analyst Sonya Lunder. "Pesticides might be in small amounts, but we don't know what the subtle, long-term effects of many of these pesticides are yet."
The worst offenders also include strawberries (No. 3) and imported grapes (No. 7). Onions top the "clean" list, found to be lowest in pesticides.
By choosing five servings of fruit and vegetables a day from the clean list, most people can lower the volume of pesticides they consume daily by 92%, the report says.
"Consumers don't want pesticides on their foods," says EWG president Ken Cook. "We eat plenty of apples in our house, but we buy organic when we can."
Rankings reflect the amounts of chemicals present on food when it is eaten. Most samples were washed and peeled before testing. Washing with a "produce wash" is unlikely to help remove pesticides because they're taken up by the entire plant and reside on more than just the skin, the report says.
For shoppers who cannot afford organic food, which often is more expensive, Cook says the lists offer alternatives. Can't find organic apples? Buy pineapples, the top fruit on the clean list, or avocados or mangoes.
Fewer than 10% of pineapple, mango and avocado samples showed pesticides. For vegetables, asparagus, corn and onions had no detectable residue on 90% or more of samples.
Pesticides are known to be toxic to the nervous system, cause cancer, disrupt hormones and cause brain damage in children. Pregnant women are advised to avoid foods containing pesticides.
A study by Harvard School of Public Health found children exposed to pesticides had a higher risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Lunder says pesticides were measured in six different ways to calculate overall scores:
•percentage of samples tested with detectable pesticides.
•percentage of samples with two or more pesticides.
•Average number of pesticides found on a single sample.
•Average amount (level in parts per million) of all pesticides found.
•Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample.
•Total number of pesticides found on the commodity.
Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables from the "dirty dozen" list would mean you'd get an average of 14 different pesticides. By choosing five from the clean list, you'd consumer fewer than two pesticides.