EWG's 2014 Guide to Pesticides in Produce came out last month. PRI's Living on Earth has a nice little 6-minute podcast about the report that you can listen to here. The guide is a reminder that food safety in the US lags behind many other countries when it comes to controls on pesticides and other chemicals. There's no question that fruits and vegetables are an important part of a balanced diet, but the old adage Buyer Beware is good advice in the grocery aisle. EWG's guide lists the "dirty dozen" types of produce that had the highest levels of chemical residues, and the "clean fifteen" that had the lowest based on 32,000 samples tested by USDA and FDA scientists. They detected pesticides on two of every three samples.
Which are the winners and losers? More on that in a minute, but first let me explain why Local Food can be healthier for you. Some of the chemicals, like DPA which the European Commission banned two years ago, are used to preserve apples and pears during cold storage. If we're eating Local Food we're not eating things that are stored and marketed out of season, because we're shopping at Farmers' Markets or CSAs or Pick-Your-Own where they sell what they grow. Most important, we can ask the farmer who grew the produce what they used, and request organically-grown alternatives.
OK, the Dirty Dozen this year includes apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes. The Clean 15 are avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Having trouble remembering all that in the grocery store? For a $10 donation EWG will send you fancy tag lists that you can put on your re-usable grocery bags. Or, just remember to buy local, seasonal produce, and ask your farmer how he grows your food.