There’s mounting evidence that the safest strawberries may be either organic organic berries bought at the store or the ones you grow yourself in your own backyard.
For the second year in a row, strawberries topped The Dirty Dozen, an annual list produced by the non-profit Environmental Working Group since 2004. The EWG generates the list by reviewing and analyzing tests on consumer fruits and vegetables conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In its findings, the research group said the USDA tests, conducted in 2014 and 2015, showed that conventionally grown strawberries had an average of 7.7 detected pesticides, compared to an average of 2.3 pesticides for other conventional fruits and vegetables. The “dirtiest” of the strawberries had as many as 20 pesticides, the group said.
Spinach was second of the Dirty Dozen, followed by nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes. It was the first time pears and potatoes appeared on the list.
EWG senior analyst Sonja Lunder told CNN the list is meant to help consumers make wise choices. “Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they’re grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic,” she said.
The Dirty Dozen
- sweet bell pepper
The Clean 15
- sweet corn
- frozen sweet peas
EWG also produces The Clean 15, which is a list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that are deemed safer. The list names sweet corn as the safest, followed by avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, payapa, asparagus, mango, eggplant, honeydew, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, and grapefruit.
Lunder said the problem with strawberries is that they are particularly vulnerable to pests and disease, so growing them without pesticides, or organically, can be labor intensive, and, consequentially, very expensive. Even in Maine, where picking your own strawberries is an annual ritual for many families, organic pick-your-own-strawberry farms are practically non existent.
Some new methods of large scale organic strawberry farm production are promising, Lunder says, including the use of molasses to rid the soil of pathogens.
Why avoid pesticides? According to the World Health Organization, they may have negative effects on the reproduction, immune or nervous systems, and can potentially cause cancer and other health problems. Young children, the WHO says, are especially vulnerable.