How to Avoid Pesticides in Your Produce

A variety of fruits and vegetables.

In 2024, the Environmental Working Group found residues of 254 different pesticides or pesticide breakdown products on 75% of the conventional fruits and vegetables tested by the USDA and the FDA.

Pesticides have been detected in our food, water, and even in the air we breathe, making them nearly impossible to avoid (1). Although the use of pesticides has played an undeniable role in preventing crop damages and losses, there is growing evidence that pesticide exposure can cause harm to our bodies (2). Fruit and vegetable consumption is a potential source of pesticide exposure. However, good produce washing techniques and the purchasing of organic produce when possible can help limit exposure.


In this article, we'll explore why pesticides are used, which types of produce are the most and least contaminated with pesticides, the effects of pesticides on health, how to remove pesticide residues from your produce, and ways to support your body due to pesticide exposure.


Note: The benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption far outweigh the risks of pesticides. With some easy and inexpensive changes to your routine, you can reduce your pesticide exposure considerably even if you aren’t able to purchase organic produce. Please don’t let the risks of pesticide exposure decrease your fruit and vegetable intake!

What Are Pesticides, and Why Are They Used?

Pesticides are toxic substances used to ward off or destroy various types of organisms that are considered pests, such as certain insects, plants, and fungi (3). Although pesticides are generally viewed in an unfavorable light, they are indispensable for agricultural production. Farmers use pesticides to control weeds and insects, and widespread pesticide usage has led to an increase in crop yields and a reduction of diseases in crops.


According to a recent study, if pesticides were not used in agricultural production, there would be a 78% loss in fruit production, a 54% loss in vegetable production, and a 32% loss of cereal (rice, wheat, oats, etc) production, which would greatly affect the cost and availability of food (4). Although pesticides are useful when growing crops, their widespread use has raised various health concerns.

The Clean Fifteen™ & The Dirty Dozen™

Since 2004, the Environmental Working Group* has released its annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ for the purpose of educating the public about popular fruits and vegetables that contain pesticides and enabling consumers to make the best decisions for their families when it comes to food. The Shopper’s Guide includes the The Clean Fifteen™ and The Dirty Dozen™ — two lists that disclose the presence of pesticides, or lack of, in various foods.


The Clean Fifteen™ is a list of fifteen fruits and vegetables that have the lowest amounts of pesticide residues and may be purchased conventionally (although they should still be washed as outlined below). The Dirty Dozen™ is just what it sounds like, twelve of the most heavily pesticide-laden fruits and veggies that should be purchased organic when possible.


*The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to protecting public health by providing access to information that helps the public make well informed decisions. 

The Clean Fifteen™

According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2024 analysis, the following types of produce have the lowest amount of pesticide residues (5):

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapple

  4. Onions

  5. Papaya

  6. Sweet Peas (Frozen)

  7. Asparagus

  8. Honeydew melon

  9. Kiwi

  10. Cabbage

  11. Watermelon

  12. Mushrooms

  13. Mangoes

  14. Sweet potatoes

  15. Carrots

Cabbage and onions

The Dirty Dozen™

The fruits and vegetables listed below were found by the Environmental Working Group’s 2024 analysis to contain the highest amount of pesticide residues (5):

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens

  4. Grapes

  5. Peaches

  6. Pears

  7. Nectarines

  8. Apples

  9. Bell and hot peppers

  10. Cherries

  11. Blueberries

  12. Green beans

Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

The Effects of Pesticides on Health

Seeing how in 2024 the EWG found residues of 254 different pesticides or pesticide breakdown products on 75% of the conventional fruits and vegetables tested, it’s imperative to understand the effects of pesticides on your health (5). In recent years, there have been several studies conducted that examine the relationship between pesticides and health.


One study has shown that pesticide exposure is linked to Parkinson’s disease (6). Another study has suggested that pesticide exposure during pregnancy, and even before pregnancy, may be linked to an increase in childhood cancer (7). A third study that looked at exposure to pesticides during pregnancy has reported pesticide exposure may increase the risk of preeclampsia (8). Furthermore, pesticide exposure has been shown to cause reproductive disorders in women as well as reduced fertility parameters in women and men (9).


In regards to pesticide exposure during pregnancy, recent studies have revealed unwanted effects in offspring. An increased risk of autism was found in children whose mothers were exposed to organophosphorus pesticides during pregnancy (10). For mothers who were exposed to organochlorine pesticides during pregnancy, there is an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in their children (10).


The EWG reported that four of the five pesticides that were found most often on the produce of the Dirty Dozen list are fungicides. These fungicides are fludioxonil, which may induce growth of breast cancer cells (11); pyrimethanil, which may disrupt thyroid function (12); pyraclostrobin, which may negatively affect mitochondrial health (13); and boscalid, which may disrupt hormones (14).


One of the most commonly used pesticides in the United States is the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate has been found to induce hormonal imbalances, which in turn can negatively affect fertility and reproduction (15). Glyphosate has also been shown to predispose humans to inflammatory diseases and neurological disorders (15).


Other risks of glyphosate exposure may include celiac disease as well as an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (16,17). Because of these risks and all that is still unknown in regards to the health effects of glyphosate, we are a glyphosate tested company.


For more on glyphosate, please read The Risks of Glyphosate — And Why We're A Glyphosate Tested Company

Should I Still Eat Produce Even if I’m Unable to Purchase Organic?

If you are unable to obtain organic produce, it is still wise to consume conventionally grown fruits and vegetables due to the various mental and physical health benefits they provide (18,19).

Consuming fruits and vegetables may:

  • Reduce risk of, and death from, cardiovascular disease, particularly when eating leafy greens such as Swiss chard, lettuce, and spinach (20,21)

  • Lower blood pressure, specifically when following a vegetarian diet (22)

  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes, especially when eating blueberries, grapes, and apples (23)

  • Lower risk for stroke, moreso when eating citrus fruits, apples, pears, and leafy vegetables (24)

  • Lower mortality risk, specifically when eating 2 servings of fruits and 3 servings of vegetables a day (25)

To learn more about micronutrient deficiencies, see 10 Common Micronutrient Deficiencies & Inadequacies in the United States.

A woman holds a bowl of lettuce.

Should I Wash My Produce Before Eating It?

If you buy conventionally grown produce, washing it before you eat it is a great way to minimize your pesticide exposure. A study conducted in 1997 showed that by simply rinsing produce in tap water, 9 out of the 12 pesticide residues being studied were removed (26).


Another study looked at removing pesticide residues on apples and concluded that a mixture of baking soda and water worked better than either tap water or Clorox bleach at removing surface pesticide residues (27). This study also suggested that peeling the skin off an apple would be a beneficial method to remove surface pesticides; however, the bioactive compounds found in peels that may be beneficial to health would be lost.


Another option is to wash produce with an ultrasonic cleaner. Ultrasonic cleaners work by using high-frequency sound waves that create tiny bubbles in the water being used to wash produce. As the bubbles get bigger, they implode and knock surface residues off of the fruits and vegetables being cleaned. Studies have shown that ultrasonic cleaners work extremely well at removing pesticides from produce. A study done on pesticide removal from strawberries showed a removal of 91.2% of analyzed pesticides using an ultrasonic cleaning device (28). 

How to Remove Pesticides from Produce

As previously mentioned, whether or not you buy organic produce, it is a good idea to wash it before eating. Below are more ways to help remove pesticides from your produce.

  1. Wash with a salad spinner: If you are washing leafy greens, use a salad spinner. Add one teaspoon of baking soda for every two cups of water. Then spin, drain, and rinse.

  2. Scrub with a vegetable brush: For produce such as potatoes, carrots, or other root vegetables, scrub with a vegetable brush while rinsing under tap water.

  3. Soak in a baking soda/water mix: For produce such as berries or tomatoes, use one teaspoon of baking soda for every two cups of water and soak your produce for 15 minutes in a large bowl. Rinse well.

  4. Peel & remove the outer layer: On produce such as apples, cabbage, or lettuce, simply peel the skin of the apple with a vegetable peeler or remove the outer layers of the cabbage and lettuce.

  5. Boil produce: In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add your produce. For best results, boil your produce for at least 5 minutes.

  6. Use an ultrasonic cleaner: For optimal results, follow the instructions for your specific device.

How to Support the Body Through Pesticide Exposure

Because pesticides are associated with health risks, it is important to minimize exposure and take steps to keep your body healthy and resilient. In my opinion, the three most important steps to do so are: 1) support your microbiome, 2) ingest plenty of glutathione — a master antioxidant which is required for detoxification, and 3) stay hydrated to allow all routes of detoxification to function optimally.


Studies have shown that pesticide exposure can potentially disrupt the gut microbiota in humans (29) and therefore taking probiotics and consuming prebiotic/probiotic foods may be beneficial to counteract the disruption (30).


Glutathione is an important antioxidant for overall tissue health in general and for detoxification of many different pesticides. It is produced in our bodies and found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower. Eating these vegetables can stimulate detox enzymes that help rid the body of foreign chemicals (31,32).


Another easily overlooked but crucial way to help our bodies detox is to increase our water intake. Being well hydrated helps with the elimination of toxins from the body via sweat, bowel movements, and urination (33).


For more on detoxification, please see What is Detoxification? and 10 Ways to Support Detoxification in Kids

Summary

In this day and age, exposure to pesticides is inevitable. In an ideal world this wouldn’t be an issue, however we can be informed of the health risks related to pesticides and take steps to prevent exposure. Maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet is important to keeping our bodies and immune systems strong. Although ideally we want to avoid pesticides, it is important to still consume fruits and vegetables — no matter how they are grown — due to their health benefits, especially when washed properly!


Here at Dr. Green Life, we believe in full transparency with our products. All of our products are third-party tested by Eurofins Scientific for glyphosate. For more information on how we test our products, please click on the Third-Party Test Results tab found on all of our product pages. 

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