True Cellular Formulas Team - July 12, 2023

2023 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

An In-Depth Look at Pesticides in Our Produce

2023 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen


The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, publishes an annual list known as the "Dirty Dozen".[1] This list highlights the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest concentrations of pesticides. Today, we delve into the 2023 edition of the Dirty Dozen.

What is the Dirty Dozen?

The Dirty Dozen is a list published annually by the EWG, which ranks the 12 fruits and vegetables most contaminated by pesticides. This ranking is based on tests conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.[2] It is important to note that the produce is tested for pesticide residues after they have been washed or peeled, mimicking what consumers might do at home.[3]

Why is the Dirty Dozen Important?

Pesticide exposure has been linked to a range of health problems, including neurodevelopmental issues in children, hormone disruption, and even certain types of cancer.[4] The Dirty Dozen list raises consumer awareness about pesticide contamination and helps individuals make informed decisions about whether to buy conventional or organic produce.[5] The potential benefits of choosing organic for the listed items include reduced pesticide exposure, which might be particularly beneficial for children, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems.[6]

The Rising Concern: Health Implications of Pesticides and Herbicides (300 words)

As the use of pesticides and herbicides has escalated in conventional agriculture, there is growing concern about the potential harm these chemicals can inflict on human health. These compounds, developed to control pests and promote crop yield, often leave residues that persist in our food supply, in our environment, and, ultimately, within our bodies.

Research strongly indicates a link between exposure to these chemicals and a variety of health issues. Neurologically, even low-level exposure to certain pesticides has been associated with developmental delays in children, reduced cognitive function, and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Some pesticides, such as organophosphates, function by disrupting nerve signal transmission, and this mechanism can adversely affect human neurological function as well.[7]

Endocrine disruption is another significant health risk linked to pesticide and herbicide exposure. Some of these chemicals are known to mimic human hormones, notably the sex hormones, leading to imbalances and conditions like infertility, endometriosis, and certain cancers.[8]

Furthermore, several pesticides and herbicides have been classified as potential carcinogens by agencies like the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Chronic exposure has been associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and various solid tumors.[9]

Alarmingly, the incidence of many of these health conditions has risen over recent decades, paralleling the increase in pesticide and herbicide use. While correlation does not prove causation, the relationship warrants further, rigorous investigation. Meanwhile, the rise of regenerative and organic agriculture offers a way forward, reducing our reliance on these potentially harmful chemicals, and fostering a healthier, more sustainable food system.

The 2023 Dirty Dozen List

The Dirty Dozen list for 2023, in order of highest pesticide contamination, includes Strawberries, Spinach, Kale, collard & mustard greens, Peaches, Pears, Nectarines, Apples, Grapes, Bell & hot Peppers, Cherries, Blueberries, and Green Beans.[10]

Each fruit or vegetable made the list due to its high levels of pesticide residues. For instance, strawberries typically have the highest concentration of pesticides, with some samples showing residues of 20 different pesticides.[11] Similarly, spinach samples have shown relatively high concentrations of permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide.[12]

Tips for Consumers

When purchasing these fruits and vegetables, consumers might want to consider buying organic versions, particularly for those highest on the list. Washing produce can reduce but not entirely eliminate pesticide residues.[13] Peeling may also help, but valuable nutrients often go with the skin.[14]

Understanding Clean Fifteen

In addition to the Dirty Dozen, the EWG also publishes the Clean Fifteen, a list of fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide residues. This list includes produce such as avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, and other items less likely to test positive for pesticides. In some cases, no residue was found on over 80% of samples.[15] When buying produce that appears on the Clean Fifteen, opting for conventional over organic could help consumers save money without significantly increasing their pesticide exposure.

The EWG's Clean Fifteen for 2023 is a list of the fifteen fruits and vegetables that have been found to have the least pesticide residues.[15] The list includes Avocados, Sweet corn, Pineapple, Onions, Papaya, Sweet peas (frozen), Asparagus, Honeydew melon, Kiwi, Cabbage, Mushrooms, Mangoes, Sweet Potatoes, Watermelon, and Carrots. It's encouraging to know that when buying these items, consumers can feel less concerned about pesticide exposure, even when buying non-organic versions. It's worth noting, however, that a small amount of sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. If you wish to avoid genetically modified produce, it's recommended to buy organic varieties of these crops!


The Dirty Dozen list is a valuable tool that consumers can use to reduce their exposure to pesticides. By being aware of the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues, individuals can make more informed decisions about which types of products to buy organic.

  1. EWG. (2023). EWG's 2023 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. EWG's Dirty Dozen for 2023. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 10 July 2023).
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023). Pesticide Data Program. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 10 July 2023).
  3. Bouchard, M. F., et al. (2011). Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year-Old Children. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(8), 1189–1195. 
  4. Mostafalou, S., & Abdollahi, M. (2017). Pesticides: an update of human exposure and toxicity. Archives of toxicology, 91(2), 549-599. 
  5. Bradman, A., et al. (2015). Effect of Organic Diet Intervention on Pesticide Exposures in Young Children Living in Low-Income Urban and Agricultural Communities. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(10), 1086–1093.
  6. Curl, C. L., et al. (2015). Estimating pesticide exposure from dietary intake and organic food choices: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(5), 475–483. 
  7. Munoz-Quezada, M. T., Lucero, B. A., Barr, D. B., Steenland, K., Levy, K., Ryan, P. B., Iglesias, V., Alvarado, S., Concha, C., Rojas, E., & Vega, C. (2013). Neurodevelopmental effects in children associated with exposure to organophosphate pesticides: A systematic review. NeuroToxicology, 39, 158–168.
  8. Mnif, W., Hassine, A. I. H., Bouaziz, A., Bartegi, A., Thomas, O., & Roig, B. (2011). Effect of Endocrine Disruptor Pesticides: A Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8(6), 2265–2303.
  9. Zhang, L., Rana, I., Shaffer, R. M., Taioli, E., & Sheppard, L. (2019). Exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides and risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma: A meta-analysis and supporting evidence. Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research, 781, 186–206.
  10. EWG. (2023). EWG's 2023 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. EWG's Dirty Dozen for 2023. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 10 July 2023). 
  11. Zhan, L., et al. (2018). The effects of strawberries on pesticide exposure in young children: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 28, 31-37.
  12. Cimino, A. M., et al. (2017). Effects of Neonicotinoid Pesticide Exposure on Human Health: A Systematic Review. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(2), 155–162. 
  13. Krol, W. J., et al. (2000). Reduction of pesticide residues on produce by rinsing. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 48(10), 4666-4670.
  14. Lu, C., et al. (2008). Organic diets significantly lower children's dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(2), 260–265.
  15. "EWG's 2023 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce: Clean Fifteen." Environmental Working Group, 2023, Accessed 10 July 2023.