With concerns growing across the country and around the world over pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals being used more and more in agriculture and food production, many consumers worry the foods they’re eating or feeding to their children have high levels of pesticide residue.
The sad fact is, for many popular pieces of produce, those fears are very well-founded. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a leading environmental and health advocacy group that regularly analyzes federal testing of produce for pesticide residue as well as commissioning independent analysis of a wide range of other food products, such as breakfast cereal, snack bars, cookies, crackers and many other popular foods.
EWG released its 2019 report March 20, finding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration have detected pesticide residue in dozens of different produce samples, 225 different compounds in total. It’s notable that in all the federal testing, researchers washed and/or peeled all produce just as consumers would if they were preparing the fruits and vegetables for use at home, and still found that traces of these chemicals can be found on nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the United States.
At WeedKillerCrisis, we wanted to take a look at the fruits and vegetables that fared the worst (and best) in EWG’s analysis and understand a little bit more about which pesticides and herbicides were detected on those produce samples.
10 Worst Produce Items
Here are the 10 food items that most consistently registered residue of pesticide, herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals:
Upwards of 90 percent of strawberry samples tested positive for two or more chemicals. Two substances, tetrahydrophthalimide (52.1%) and boscalid (50.9%) were found on more than half of the strawberries tested.
More than 90 percent of spinach had at least two pesticides detected. One insecticide, permethrin, was found on about 70 percent of spinach samples, and two other substances, mandipropamid (68%) and ametoctradin (59.8%) were found on more than half the samples tested for those substances.
More than 9 in 10 kale samples contained residue of two or more pesticides, and multiple samples contained as many as 18 distinct compounds. The most common substance detected on kale was the herbicide DCPA, which was found on nearly 55 percent of kale samples.
Residue from two or more pesticides was detected on 90+ percent of nectarines. The fungicide fludioxonil was the most commonly detected substance on nectarines, showing up in over 67 percent of samples.
Residue is very common on apples, with more than 90 percent of samples carrying residue of at least two or more different compounds. Diphenylamine (DPA), a compound used to prevent the browning of fruit while it’s in storage, was detected on an incredible 81 percent of samples. DPA is banned for use in the European Union. The fungicide thiabendazole was detected on a majority (66%) of apple samples.
More than 50 different compounds were detected in at least one sample of grapes tested. The most commonly detected, boscalid, was found on nearly 60 percent of samples examined, while two other substances, tebuconazole (43%) and cyprodinil (42%) were quite commonly detected.
Nearly 60 chemicals were detected in at least one peach sample examined. Fludioxonil, a fungicide, was most frequently detected, showing up in nearly two-thirds (65%) of all peaches tested.The next-closest chemical was also a fungicide, iprodione, found on about 33 percent of samples.
Over 90 percent of cherry samples analyzed contained residue of more than one pesticide or herbicide. Two chemicals, pyraclostrobin (a pesticide) and boscalid (a fungicide) were found on the majority of cherry samples analyzed, with pyraclostrobin showing up on nearly 56 percent and boscalid being found on about 52 percent.
Fifty-two substances showed up in at least one pear sample examined. The most common substance on pears was the fungicide pyrimethanil, which showed up on about 53 percent of samples. The substance most commonly detected on peaches, fludioxonil, was also found on much of the pear supply, coming up in more than 40 percent of pear samples.
Tomatoes were found to have one of the widest varieties of detectable levels of herbicides and pesticides, with more than 80 different chemicals being detected in at least one tomato sample. None of the 80-plus substances detected appeared in more than half of the tomato samples, but their saturation was much more spread out than for other foods tested, and a total of seven chemicals were found in roughly 1 in 5 samples. The two most common were the fungicide difenoconazole and the insecticide chlorantraniliprole, both detected on just under a quarter of tomato samples.
10 Best Produce Items
Here are 10 products that are among those recording the least traces of pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals.
Only 25 substances, a fraction of all chemicals covered by the testing, showed up on any of the cantaloupes tested. Of those, 24 were found in less than 10 percent of cantaloupes, and the most common, endosulfan sulfate, is an insecticide whose use is being phased out in the United States and globally. It was found in about 17 percent of cantaloupes tested.
A total of 28 substances were detected in testing of cauliflower samples. The most commonly detected was the insecticide imidacloprid, which was found on about a third of cauliflower samples. Of the other substances, just one, Deltamethrin (insecticide), was found on more than 5 percent of samples — and just barely, being detected on 6.1 percent of cauliflower.
Testing revealed traces of 28 different chemicals in cabbage, but none of the substances detected were found on more than 10 percent of samples. The most commonly found substances on cabbage were imidacloprid (8%) and the fungicide azoxystrobin, which was found on 4 percent of samples.
While testing showed 31 distinct substances on the asparagus samples examined, none were present in more than 5 percent of samples. However, the most commonly detected substance, chlorpyrifos, is a controversial insecticide that at one time the EPA was set to ban before the agency changed course in 2017. Chlorpyrifos was found on just over 4 percent of asparagus.
Less than 20 herbicides, pesticides or insecticides were detected on eggplant samples, and the vast majority of them were present in less than 5 percent of samples tested. However, versions of endosulfan were found on about 15 percent of samples. Use of this substance is being reduced and phased out around the world.
Testing revealed just nine substances on any papaya samples, with four of those showing up on less than 1 percent of papayas. The most common was boscalid, which was found on about 9 percent of papaya samples.
Ten chemicals were detected on onion samples, and half of those were found in less than 1 percent of all onions checked. Boscalid, again, was the most commonly found substance, turning up in about 13 percent of onions.
Sweet Peas Frozen
Frozen sweet peas contained just six substances, according to the testing results, and only one was found in more than 5 percent of samples. Dimethoate, an insecticide, was found in about 17 percent of frozen sweet pea samples tested.
Testing of pineapples revealed traces of only six chemicals, with none of them breaking the 5 percent mark among all samples. The most commonly detected was a fungicide, triadimefon, which appeared in 4.4 percent of samples.
EWG’s analysis determined that avocados were by far the cleanest products tested, and the numbers back that up. Only one chemical was detected on avocados, the insecticide imiprothrin, which was found in just over 1 percent of all tested avocados.
While the idea of chemical residue coating the fruits and vegetables you feed to your family isn’t exactly an appetizing one, knowledge is power. Now that you know which products are the most (and least) likely to have potentially dangerous chemical residue, you can make a more informed decision as a consumer.
- Environmental Working Group, EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php#dirty-dozen
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pesticide Data Program. (2019.) Data accessed from https://apps.ams.usda.gov/pdp