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Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables | When to Buy Organic

2012 February 21

By Kevin Hurley

As someone who was raised on meat and potatoes, picking out what fruits and vegetables to eat is a daunting task. While I usually try to buy organic fruits and veggies from one of the various Local Grown NYC Food Markets, often I end up in my neighborhood supermarket faced with a decision. Should I spend the extra money and buy organic?

Fortunately, I recently acquired a handy guide to assist me in the decision making process. A colleague gave me the “Pocket Guide Tips for Growing Up Green and Healthy” produced by the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center. This credit card sized guide uses data from the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to list which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues. These fruits and vegetables are the most important to buy organic.

We all know that pesticides are used by farmers to keep pests from destroying fruit and vegetable crops. However, you may not have known that traces of these pesticides, known as pesticide residue, stay on fruits and vegetables even after you wash them. While EPA establishes the maximum pesticide tolerances in order to protect human health and the environment, certain types of produce naturally tend to retain and absorb higher levels of this pesticide residue.So which fruits and vegetables retain the highest amounts of pesticides?

Apples, celery, strawberries, peaches and spinach are listed as having the highest levels of pesticide residue. For these fruits and vegetables, along with the others listed on the “Pocket Guide,” you may want to consider going organic. I know I will.

About the Author:  Kevin has been working as a Grants Management Specialist with the EPA since 2007, and is currently on detail serving as special assistant to the Regional Administrator.  He grew up in South Jersey, went to school outside of Baltimore, and received a Masters in Public Policy from Rutgers University.  Kevin currently resides in the Upper East Side of Manhattan where you can usually find him exercising or playing outdoor ice hockey in Central Park.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. jaime permalink
    February 21, 2012

    Thanks for the pocket guide, that is going to be really useful for me.

  2. Terry permalink
    February 23, 2012

    This is so helpful. I am always wondering in what case it is actually worth it to spend the extra $. Thanks, Kevin.

  3. Alliance for Food and Farming permalink
    February 24, 2012

    Kevin: You might want to examine this a little more closely. Your agency’s (EPA) standards for pesticide residues are quite stringent and rigorous. In fact, the EPA has adopted a public health protective approach to ensure a “reasonable certainty of no harm” from pesticide residues with a process that explicitly considers infants, children and pregnant women. The assessment of pesticide residues is among the most sophisticated, data rich set of risk assessment methods that EPA conducts. Because of these rigorous EPA standards which have been in place since 1996, the supply of fruits and vegetables that reach supermarkets everyday are very safe. Also, consumers can, in fact, just wash them if they are still concerned about residues. According to the FDA, you can remove and often eliminate any minute amounts of pesticide residues simply by washing. Learn more at

  4. Chris permalink
    February 24, 2012

    According to the FDA, you can reduce and often eliminate pesticide residues if they are present on fresh fruits and vegetables by washing them with cold or warm tap water.

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