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The 12 Dirtiest Fruits & Vegetables

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1 The 12 Dirtiest Fruits & Vegetables on Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:50 am

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Scan any supermarket produce section and what do you see? Rows of
brightly hued, blemish-free fruits and vegetables. They're gorgeous.
But stop and ask yourself: Without help, could nature consistently
deliver such picture-perfect greens and berries, any more than it
fashions every woman into a beauty pageant contestant? Of course not.
Plants, like people, have natural imperfections—and some require more
help than others to look good, not to mention maintain their youthful
looks as they age.


In the plant world, the equivalent of beauty products are the
dozens of chemicals that farmers use to fend off insects, pests, weeds,
fungal attacks, and rot. Not surprisingly, plants that are more
vulnerable to attack need more of them. To help you tell which is which
(and, therefore, which are best to eat organic, as opposed to those you
can buy conventionally to save money), the Environmental Working Group
publishes two lists—the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. The EWG rankings
are based on USDA-tested levels of chemical residues that remain on
conventionally raised fruits and vegetables after washing. Revised
lists came out in the spring, with a couple of surprising new
additions. But if you should find yourself in the grocery store without
the lists in hand, not to worry. There are logical reasons some types
of produce are "dirtier" than others. The clues are in the plants. Read
their stories, and you'll never wonder again which is which—and where
you can economize.



BUY ORGANIC

(It's Worth It)

No. 1 Celery

WHY IT'S DIRTY
Due to peak consumer demand around
Thanksgiving and Christmas, 75% of the crop is grown during the fall
and winter, when rain and wind promote the growth of bacteria and fungal diseases.
And because we eat the entire stalk, it must be sprayed repeatedly to
ward off pests. "Nobody likes to find a caterpillar-damaged stalk in
their celery bunch," says Stuart Reitz, PhD, a research entomologist
with the USDA.


No. 2 Peaches

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
Sweet and succulent, peaches can be just as
alluring to insects as to people. Farmers may spray peaches every week
or two from bloom to harvest—and peach fuzz can trap pesticides, says
peach breeder John R. Clark, PhD, a horticulturalist at the University
of Arkansas, who peels every one of the thousands of peaches he eats
each year.



No. 3 Strawberries

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
Strawberries are not only sweet and
juicy but also delicate and prone to disease, including fungal attacks
that can turn them to mush during transit and storage. "With apples and
peaches, a lot of spraying is cosmetic to get blemish-free fruits,"
says Richard Wiles, senior vice president for policy at EWG. "With
berries, you're just trying to get them across the finish line into the
store before they go bad."


No. 4 Apples

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
Sweet-smelling and delicious, apples are
susceptible to more than 30 insects and at least 10 diseases. And
fungicides and other chemicals are added after picking to prevent tiny
blemishes that can accumulate during storage of up to 9 months.


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No. 5 Blueberries

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
Blueberries are new on the Dirty Dozen
list—possibly because the USDA began testing them only 3 years ago,
after large increases in production. The berries are targets for
insects such as blueberry maggots and bagworms.


No. 6 Nectarines

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
Nectarines differ from peaches only in the
absence of fuzz—a trait that likely arose as a natural mutation of a
peach tree—so it's no wonder they're susceptible to many of the same
pests, including oriental fruit moths and peach twig borers. Thanks to
their waxy skin, they don't retain as many pesticides as peaches. On
the other hand, they are more vulnerable to rot and scarring.


No. 7 Bell peppers

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
Unlike cruciferous vegetables such as
broccoli, sweet bell peppers (which are technically fruits) have no
bitter compounds to serve as built-in insect repellents.
They even lack the fiery taste of their cousins, the chile peppers. And
the creases at their crowns may provide nooks for pesticides to
accumulate, says Philip Stansly, PhD, an entomologist at the University
of Florida.


No. 8 Spinach

WHY IT'S DIRTY
Spinach is a mere leaf that's crunched by a
variety of insects, including grasshoppers. In addition, says Wiles,
"spinach tends to pull persistent DDT residues out of the soil and into
the leaf." These chemicals remain in the earth decades after they were
banned.


No. 9 Kale

WHY IT'S DIRTY
The outer leaves are not removed before sale,
so any amount of damage will make it unmarketable. Even natural enemies
of the pests that feed on kale can be considered contaminants in
harvested produce, so farmers spray for all bugs, including the "good"
ones.


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No. 10 Cherries

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
Because cherries are a naked
fruit—without peel or protection—they're vulnerable to pests such as
the western cherry fruit fly. If just one of its maggots is found in a
shipment, the entire load of fruit must be dumped, according to quarantine regulations, so growers spray out of fear of losing their crops.


No. 11 Potatoes

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
New to the list, America's number one
vegetable is sprayed 5 or more times throughout the growing season to
protect against various pests—and to ensure a crop of uniform shape and
size for fast-food outlets and potato chip producers. After harvesting,
another round of spraying occurs in the packing shed to ward off molds
and sprouting.


No. 12 Imported grapes

WHY THEY'RE DIRTY
During their long transit from the southern
hemisphere, imported grapes are susceptible to Botrytis cinerea rot,
which causes the fruits to split and leak. To prevent that, farmers
spray aggressively with fungicides. (Domestic table grapes do not need
the same spraying because most are grown in the dry desert climate of
Southern California, where botrytis does not thrive.)


THE 15 CLEANEST Fruits Vegetables


BUY REGULAR

(And Save Money)

No. 1 Onions

WHY THEY'RE CLEAN
Onions manufacture their own protective
chemicals, a series of unpleasant-tasting sulfur compounds that
discourage insect munching. Though farmers may spray early in the
growing season, residues are removed when the dry outer layer of the
bulb is shed during harvest.



No. 2 Avocado

WHY IT'S CLEAN Most of the pesticides that are used to treat avocados accumulate on the peel.


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No. 3 Sweet corn

WHY IT'S CLEAN Corn is husked before eating, eliminating residues on the outside.


No. 4 Pineapple

WHY IT'S CLEAN Most spraying is done early in the growing season,
so minimal residues remain after harvest. Those that do are removed
with the thick rind.


No. 5 Mangoes

WHY THEY'RE CLEAN
Mangoes are grown in Mexico, the Caribbean,
and South America, where the dry climate discourages fungus and hand
weeding is a common alternative to herbicides. In addition—repeat after
us—mangoes are peeled before eating.

No. 6 Sweet peas

WHY THEY'RE CLEAN
They are protected by their pods.



No. 7 Asparagus

WHY IT'S CLEAN
The spears spring up so fast, there's little time for insects to attack.


No. 8 Kiwifruit

WHY IT'S CLEAN
Lacewings and parasitic wasps help control the pests that like to feed on kiwis.


No. 9 Cabbage

WHY IT'S CLEAN
The plant is sprayed, but the outer leaves that absorb pesticides are discarded before sale.


No. 10 Eggplant

WHY IT'S CLEAN
The eggplant has a slick surface that sheds chemicals easily.


No. 11 Cantaloupe

WHY IT'S CLEAN
Though the melons are sprayed with insecticides, we don't ingest them because the fruit is cut out of the thick rind before, well, you know.


No. 12 Watermelon

WHY IT'S CLEAN
The fruit has a thick protective rind that is not eaten.


No. 13 Grapefruit

WHY IT'S CLEAN
Although farmers often use fungicides to control green mold, most of the residues remain on the peel.


No. 14 Sweet potato

WHY IT'S CLEAN
The sweet potato has built-in defenses.
If bitten, it oozes a milky-white sap that gums up insect mouthparts.
Before they're sold, sweet potatoes are cured at warm temperatures and
high humidity. This causes the skin to thicken, providing protection
against damage and disease.


No. 15 Honeydew melon

WHY IT'S CLEAN
Honeydew may be washed in diluted chlorine
during packing in order to ward off rot-inducing microbes. But—need we
say it again?—you discard the rind before eating. See, you're an expert
already.


Just remember that whether you opt for conventional or
organic, you're better off eating more fruits and vegetables rather
than less. And whatever produce you buy, wash or peel it before eating.

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