How Harmful are Pesticides in Produce?

Posted: Updated:

Reported by Scott Meeks
August 28, 2007

Nearly a quarter of American shoppers have made the switch to organics. That means that most of us are still buying conventionally grown fruits and veggies. So what's the difference? CW29's Scott Meeks explains in this Going Green report.

One apple's organic and the other apple's not. They may look the same, but the biggest difference between the two is pesticides. While there's much debate over what that means for our health, we as shoppers just want a simple answer: which apple do we put in our carts and our bodies?

Dannielle Shifflett is like a lot of shoppers. She mostly buys traditionally grown produce. For her, the pesticides that go along with that produce are a concern.

"You're consuming it. It's going in your body. And you're feeding it to your kids. It's scary," shared Shifflett. 

Scientists are still studying the long term effects of pesticides, but at the Cville Market, they try to put shoppers' minds at ease by passing out a guide.

The guide is a list known as the "dirty dozen". That's the 12 most popular fruits and veggies contaminated with the heaviest pesticide loads. The produce at the top of the list is peaches, apples and peppers.


Registered dietition Rita Smith suggests, "I would say for fruit, for produce that has more residue content on it, think about going organic with that group of produce...if you consume them often."

Smith says if you're eating mostly the produce from the top of the list, then you might want to make some changes. "Like if you only eat apples. That's a concern. You really ought to think about going to organic because that's your only source of fruits," explained Smith. 

Otherwise, a good wash and peeling will help get rid of some of the residue.

"Also cooking or blanching the produce, that heat may remove some of that pesticide residue," added Smith. 

Eating a variety will also reduce your exposure, but dietitians say never consider cutting out fruits and veggies.

Smith says, "I know folks who are avoiding eating many fruits and vegetables because of pesticide residue. Our greatest health risk is not eating the produce. Not the little bit of residue that might be on it."

Shifflett doesn't have to worry about that. She and her family stay well informed and well stocked. "My kids like just the normal apples, grapes and oranges," shared Shifflett. 

The list was designed by a non-profit research team called the "Environmental Working Group." It also includes produce with the lowest amount of pesticides.


If you'd like to know where some of your favorites stand, you can click here and print out the card.

For conventionally grown produce, farmers follow very strict guidelines when it comes to pesticides. How much is used and what is used on each fruit and vegetable is carefully regulated.