15 organic fruits and vegetables that may not be worth your money

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You can probably skip organic varieties of sweet corn.
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Shutterstock

Is that organic fruit or vegetable you’re eyeing worth paying about 50% more to reduce the likelihood of pesticide exposure?

Maybe, maybe not.

Pesticide use varies from one crop, region, and grower to the next, and buying organic produce doesn’t always guarantee the food will be free of residues. (The USDA allows organic farmers to use some pesticides; also, chemicals applied to conventionally grown crops can drift over to organic plots.)

Pesticide exposure most likely isn’t as dangerous as many advocacy groups claim, too, and washing all produce can limit exposure. Still, there is some evidence that pesticides may affect the health of kids.

“Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies, and young children,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, told USA Today. “So when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children’s exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables.”

The Pesticide Data Program – run by the US Department of Agriculture – is a good way to cut through the noise. Each year, the program examines thousands of samples of the foods children eat most frequently, tests them for pesticide residues, and releases its findings.

The USDA’s reports aren’t exactly easy to read, though, so a nonprofit called the Environmental Working Group compiles the data into its “clean fifteen“: a list of conventionally grown produce items with the best track records when it comes to pesticide residues – and the ones EWG says you can probably skip buying organic.

Each food in the EWG’s list below is ranked based on six criteria, primarily by the trace amounts and variety of pesticides found by the USDA.

While it’s anything but the gospel when it comes to your own shopping choices, it can be a handy guide for busy families that don’t have time to pore over the USDA’s latest data.

Note: EWG also publishes a “dirty dozen” list of foods that it recommends buying organic.


1. Sweet corn

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Shutterstock

Only about 1% of conventionally grown sweet corn sampled by the USDA showed detectable levels of trace pesticides, according to EWG.


2. Avocados

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Shutterstock

The same low percentage was true of avocados.


3. Pineapples

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As a group, four of five samples of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions, and cabbage had no detectable pesticide residues, EWG said.


4. Cabbage

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Flickr/Ccharmon

5. Onions

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6. Frozen sweet peas

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EWG said only 5% of all vegetables in this list had two or more detectable pesticides.


7. Papaya

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BI Australia

Any fruit in the so-called clean 15 had a maximum of three types of pesticide residues.


8. Asparagus

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Shutterstock

9. Mangoes

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10. Eggplant

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Flickr/ivanatman

11. Honeydew melon

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12. Kiwi

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Kyle McDonald/Flickr

13. Cantaloupe

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14. Cauliflower

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Liz West/Cauliflower

15. Grapefruit

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Flickr/calliope

Even if a fruit or vegetable is not on EWG’s “clean fifteen” list – or is on its “dirty dozen” list – that doesn’t mean you should avoid it or buy organic.

Exposure to pesticides can be dramatically limited by properly washing and preparing produce.