All you need to know about the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen

Organic Farmers & Market Report 2/10/2016
October 2, 2016
Organic Farmers & Market Report 06/10/2016
October 6, 2016
All you need to know about the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen

Of course, there is no need to convince you that going organic is so much better for your health [1] and for the earth [2] – you know it already! Luckily, these days organic alternatives are available for everything, from groceries to skin care and household items.

This, however, creates a potential for an often overlooked issue: the overwhelming selection may seem a bit confronting at times. Also, additional factors often come into play, such as the selection of foods in a particular supermarket, or financial considerations. Even if you’ve committed to only buying organic, chances are if it wasn’t your go-to lifestyle choice for many years already, change will take some time. Eventually, you’ll likely learn to plan meals, cook from scratch using whole organic foods. and maybe even create a cozy little garden to counterbalance the seemingly increased costs of your weekly shop. However, while you’re still undergoing a gradual process of change, filling a shopping basket can be quite a puzzle, and to be honest, it’s hard to find time to solve it properly sometimes…

Which is exactly where the dirty dozen and the clean 15 come into play. Not sure what these are, and how to use the knowledge about this classification to your advantage? Then this material is just for you!

The concept of the dirty dozen an the clean 15

No pesticides here

One of the main health considerations when it comes to food choices is the pesticide content. Hazards linked to pesticides exposure range from short-term (e.g. allergies, skin and eye irritation) to chronic impacts (e.g. various types of cancer, asthma and diabetes) [3] – and exposure through residues in food is not rare. Because of the latter, eating pesticide-free produce is strongly recommended to reduce your risk of health complications [4].

Of course, the easiest solution to reduce exposure to pesticides in food is to go organic, as organic farming is virtually pesticide-free [5]. However, as we’ve discussed above, cold turkey-style transition may not be a viable option for some families.

Taking this into consideration, an American environmental organisation called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) came up with a simple concept to help people make informed choices when it comes to food shopping. EWG (having some of the world’s top scientists, researchers and policymakers onboard) believes that while not ideal, sometimes purchasing non-organic foods can be a good solution to help you with shopping and budgeting. By following EWG shopping gu
idelines, you can reduce the amount of toxins ingested daily by whopping 80%, compared to a diet consisting of conventional produce only.

Every year, EWG puts together two lists, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean 15”. The goal of these lists is to help consumers determine where they absolutely must buy organic no matter what, and where conventional foods can be an alternative. The lists are built using extensive data from the United States Department of Agriculture. One of the most important parameters is the amount of pesticide residue found in conventional produce after washing. When comparing foods, EWG extensively tests all items for parameters such as [6]:

•     Percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
•     Percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides
•     Average number of pesticides found on a single sample
•     Average amount of pesticides found, measured in parts per million
•     Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
•     Total number of pesticides found on the commodity

In summary, key findings of the 2016 report state that [6]:

•     Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
•     Some 89 percent of pineapples, 81 percent of papayas, 78 percent of mangoes, 73 percent of kiwi and 62 percent of cantaloupes had no residues.
•     No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
•     Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.

Below you will find both lists for 2016.

The Dirty Dozen 2016


Conventionally grown foods from this list usually test positive for about 50 different chemicals (and some for even more). For items from this list, you absolutely must go organic – unless you fancy an explosive chemical cocktail, of course.

Although Australian non-organic farming practices tend to mirror those used in the USA, some issues are specifically relevant to Australian produce. Those are marked with a * symbol in the list below. Please also bear in mind that much of the produce that you buy from your local supermarket is imported from other countries, thus may have been in prolonged storage. 

1.       Strawberries*

2.       Apples*

3.       Nectarines*

4.       Peaches

5.       Celery*

6.       Grapes*

7.       Cherries

8.       Spinach

9.       Tomatoes

10.   Sweet bell peppers

11.   Cherry tomatoes

12.   Cucumbers* 

For the last four years, EWG has been extending the Dirty Dozen with a Plus category, to highlight additional types of food that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides [6]. This year, such produce includes leafy greens and hot peppers. For more information on Dirty Dozen Plus, please follow the link:

The Clean Fifteen 2016

Avocados tested cleanest

All the produce on this list contains little to no traces of pesticides, thus these foods are relatively safe to consume in non-organic form. 2016 list includes: 

1.       Avocados

2.       Sweet Corn

3.       Pineapples

4.       Cabbage

5.       Sweat peas (frozen)

6.       Onions

7.       Asparagus

8.       Mangos

9.       Papayas

10.   Kiwi

11.   Eggplant

12.   Honeydew melon

13.   Grapefruit

14.   Cantaloupe

15.   Cauliflower

Remember, those contain little to no traces of pesticides after washing – so always exercise common sense and rinse your produce thoroughly!


Farming practices are not made equal, and the extensive ongoing research performed by EWG confirms it year after year. If you’ve only just started the glorious transition to organic shopping or need to cut some spendings for a while, the guide above is perfect for you.

Remember though – there is nothing better than 100% organic life. If you want to remain in good health for as long as possible and preserve our planet for future generations, transitioning to 100% organic shopping is the only solution. Practice makes perfect – start with the guide above, and see where it takes you.



1.       Chalova, V.I., et al (2016) “Reduction of nitrogen excretion and emission in poultry: A review for organic poultry.” J Environ Sci Health B. 2016;51(4):230-5. doi: 10.1080/03601234.2015.1120616. Epub 2016 Jan 19.
2.       Reganold, J.P. & Wachter, J.M. (2016) “Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century.” Nat Plants. 2016 Feb 3;2:15221. doi: 10.1038/nplants.2015.221.
3.       Kim, K.H., et al (2016) “Exposure to pesticides and the associated human health effects.” Sci Total Environ. 2016 Sep 7. pii: S0048-9697(16)31926-X. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.009.
4.       U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010) “President’s Cancer Panel Report”.
5.       Vallverdú-Queralt, A. & Lamuela-Raventós, R.M. (2016) “Foodomics: A new tool to differentiate between organic and conventional foods.”Electrophoresis. 2016 Jul;37(13):1784-94. doi: 10.1002/elps.201500348. Epub 2015 Dec 9.
6.       (2016) “EWG’s 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Executive Summary.” Source:

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