The Top 12 Dirtiest Fruits and Vegetables

Keep out – We’re putting poison on your food. (photo by Jerry Burke)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or perhaps Cuba, you’ve probably heard that buying organic produce is better.
The most important reason to buy organic is to avoid exposure to the toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers used to grow commercial produce these days.

In case you’re wondering, pesticides have been linked to some serious health problems like Cancer, Birth Defects, Parkinson’s, Asthma, Autism, ADHD, and more.

A noticeable benefit to eating organic produce is that it often tastes better, even though it may not look as pretty. Some studies have shown that it can also have higher nutrient content.

Since 1990, the US Department of Agriculture has designated an Organic Certification for food grown without synthetic or toxic chemicals or fertilizers, genetic engineering, radiation, or sewage fertilizer.

Fun Facts!

-Genetically Modified Food (GMO) does not have to be labeled as genetically modified food.

-Processed food (like Organic Macaroni) is only required to have over 50% organic ingredients to carry the “certified organic” label.

Why is organic so expensive?

It costs farmers more money to grow organically.   The crops take longer to grow and are smaller.  Basically they produce less crops for the same amount of effort, which is why it costs more in a grocery store.  You’re paying for quality, not quantity.  Having said that, it’s usually cheaper to buy what’s in season, and always cheaper to buy directly from local farmers at a Farmers Market.

Here’s a picture of today’s modern farmer using weed-killer “Lasso”  made by Monsanto, the company responsible for wonderful products like Saccharin, Agent Orange, Polystyrene, PCBs, Round-Up and GMO seeds.

Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes a report of the most pesticide contaminated produce.

According to their 2010 report, you can lower your pesticide exposure by nearly 80% by simply avoiding the top 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables.

These rankings are based on the pesticide levels reported by the FDA and USDA Pesticide Testing Program.
The metrics used to compile their list are here.

Generally produce with thin skin (like celery) is more apt to absorb pesticides than produce with thicker skin (like an avocado).
Note:  All the produce was washed before it was tested.  Here’s the list:


Produce you really need to buy organic

(Listed in order of worst to least, but they’re all bad)

Bell Peppers
Kale/Collard Greens
Grapes (Imported)


Relatively clean produce that isn’t critical to buy organic

(Listed in order of cleanest to dirtiest, but they are still the top 15 cleanest)

Sweet Corn (clean but not very healthy, skip it)
Sweet Peas
Sweet Potato
Honeydew Melon

You can see the complete list of 46 here.

When in doubt check the label

Organic produce will have a five-digit SKU on the sticker, conventional produce only has a four-digit SKU.

I snapped a pic of an organic plum (94040) and a conventional red onion (4082) below.


Silent Spring, written in 1962, is one of the most influential books about the ecological damage and toxic effects of chemically treated produce.  It was a major catalyst in the environmental and organic produce movement.

Cool Free Stuff!

You can download a wallet-size version of the Clean/Dirty list here,
or a nifty little iPhone app

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This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Jim

    There was an article in the local paper – the Commercial Appeal (probably off of the AP wire) – about how organic food didn’t rot as quickly, tasted better, and tested higher in anti-oxidants. I think they tested strawberries.

  2. Barbara Kilpper


    It’s amazing to me how many people look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I only buy organic. We live in the only country in the world where you’d have to try to convince people that conventional produce which is raised with pesticides is a bad thing. Granted, I live in Texas, but still……………..even the more intelligent people I know act suspicious of organic. I just can’t figure it out. Do they think it’s a gimmick to say something is grown organically or have they just been so brainwashed that they can’t see the truth? Never ceases to amaze me.

    Anyway, thanks for imparting your expertise.


    1. chrisbeatcancer

      Hi Barbara, you’re not alone! I deal with the same stuff here in Tennessee.
      Just the other day a family member tried to make fun of us for grilling grass fed organic beef burgers.
      But I understand it.
      It really is hard to believe that the chemicals they put on our food are that toxic, but they are.
      I think a lot of folks would just rather not know.
      Ignorance is bliss right?



      1. Maria

        I thought you were raw vegan

    2. Mizzibob

      Brainwashed most def.
      Just because some people are too dumb to understand what you’re saying doesn’t mean what your saying isn’t true!

  3. Revolutions Memphis

    i have an allergy that prevents me from eating any conventional fruits, vegetables or nuts. i spent about 15 years without eating that stuff until i realized i could eat organic and it wouldn’t bother me. i hate that it’s more expensive, but at least i can eat it now!

    any Memphians know where to buy organic fruits, vegetables and nuts besides Whole Foods and Fresh Market?

    1. chrisbeatcancer

      Yo Adam the local farmers markets are your best bet.
      The Memphis Farmer’s Market downtown is the biggest.
      The closest one to you is the Cooper Young Farmers Market is every saturday morning at First Congo.
      There’s also one wednesday mornings at Botanic Gardens.


      1. Penny

        Chris, I also live in Memphis and just saw your article at my kids dentist office and it has changed me. I am going tomorrow to get stuff from the Whole foods store including their meats but do you think that the farmers market is better? And what about whole wheat pasta, is this not good ?

        1. chrisbeatcancer

          Hi Penny wow that’s great!
          We shop at Whole Foods and the Farmer’s Market for different things.
          They both have clean meats like grass-fed beef and free-range organic chicken, eggs, etc.
          Whole Foods has a much better selection of organic produce.
          The farmer’s market does have raw milk from Evergreen Farms, which we LOVE.
          Another place you should visit is the Trolley Stop Market on Madison.
          They sell products from local sources like the locally produced meats that you can find at the farmer’s market.
          It’s a really neat place.

          As far as whole wheat pasta and most processed grains in general, they are high-glycemic foods.
          They spike your blood sugar and insulin and thus aren’t healthy. Whole grain bread is “healthier” than white bread, but not really healthy.
          A diet high in grains can sustain life, but does not produce vibrant health.
          Ounce for ounce you get more vitamins and nutrients from vegetables and clean meats than from grains.
          I’m not saying don’t ever eat grains again, but the less you eat the better.
          This is the opposite of the FDA Food Pyramid, which recommends grains as the largest portion of your daily diet.
          Would be surprised if the grain industry lobby had something to do with that.


  4. Will

    I literally just finished crunching down a delicious piece of celery (non organic of course) only to find that it tops the dirty list.

    Chris, this stuff is so informative and helpful. I really enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for sharing.


  5. Alley

    I know a farmers market is the best bet for produce, but where can you go to get meat that is ‘suitable’ to eat in the public. I found several farms in my area that will sell their meat to you, but u have to buy it all in bulk and place orders months in advance. its so frustrating. I feel so strongly on this subject and I love how you talk about Food Inc. its simply amazing!

    1. chrisbeatcancer

      Hey Alley! Of course health food store like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have clean meat, but also my local farmers markets have meat producers there selling free-range organic, grass fed beef, pork, and chicken in any size portion you want. From what I understand that’s pretty common. Are there not any at your local market?

      1. Alley

        I havent been to the new one the built in the next town over, i will have to check it out. its just called the farmers market and i have never heard of them having meat. I found someone online and they have a farm close to here, but they want around $500 for just a quarter of a cow. im gunna have to pass…

    2. Aelita

      I just ate a peach its one of the dirtiest?thats so shocking.i hope i dont eat one thats not ripe.Anyway thanks so much for the info.

  6. Susan Marie

    Why do we say things like “non-organic” or “conventional” produce —-

    Shouldn’t we just be saying that our food supply is poisoned?

  7. Christine

    Thank you for the great information on this site! Quick question — what do you think about organic coconuts? I’ve been making your smoothie recipe with the young coconuts sold at Whole Foods, but there’s no indication that they are organic. On the other hand, canned coconut water and shredded coconuts are labeled organic. Any thoughts as to what is better to use (nonorganic fresh vs. organic packaged coconut). Thanks and keep up the great work!

    1. chrisbeatcancer

      Thanks Christine!
      Coconuts are not on the dirty list so I really don’t worry about it with the young coconuts,
      but we do buy the canned organic coconut milk.
      I’ve actually never seen a young coconut with an organic sticker on it.
      Fresh young coconuts are better than canned if they are available; we buy both.

  8. Heather

    Where do carrots come in on the list? Clean or dirty?

    1. chrisbeatcancer

      If memory serves carrots are around number 21 on the dirtiest list. We buy organic carrots.

  9. Laura

    Hi Chris! I found your site through a friend a few weeks ago and I love it. I just moved to Phoenix from MEMPHIS – wish I would have found this before I moved, would have had your family over for dinner! ;) My question – do you follow these lists with juicing as well? We have been juicing every day now, and I buy everything organic for the juicer – wondering your thoughts if I can stick to the non organic on the clean list. Thanks and keep writing!!

  10. PoeticVoice

    Something has bothered me for a long time; maybe you can help. If I cannot find all the items for my juice (or salads) in organic form, and I end up buying conventionally grown, what is the impact of the chemical pesticides to my body? Am I over dosing on chemicals while I’m trying to eat more healthily and cure myself? Or is it okay to buy what I can find if organic is unavailable and use it anyway? Seems like it could be counter productive to the healing process if I am ingesting any chemicals … but I’m at a bit of a loss regarding this. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

    1. Chris Wark

      Don’t be afraid of conventional produce. If you can’t find organic, that’s your only option. Just do the best you can. :)

  11. Anette Schier

    Hi Chris,

    I realise this is quite an old article so I may not get an answer for a while. I just wanted check your mention of corn as ok (though not very healthy). I thought most corn was GM, so although it’s not been in direct contact with pesticides, it might still contain them, and be worse in many ways, so I have been buying it organic (or from ‘safe’ countries of origin).

    I don’t particularly like it, but my son in particular is very partial to some corn on the cob…

    Your thoughts would be appreciated on this.
    Whenever you get around to it…

    Thank you,


    1. Chris Wark

      Corn must be organic, otherwise it’s GMO. :)

Comments are closed.