When you head to the grocery store, list-in-hand, what’s on your mind? If I had to guess, you’re probably thinking about the meals you’ll prepare with these groceries, the other tasks on your (seemingly endless) to-do list, or maybe you’re reflecting on challenges or questions of the day. There’s not exactly a right or wrong way to grocery shop, but there is definitely one thing you should be keeping top of mind when you’re in your store’s produce section: the EWG’s annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases this list, which contains their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. Together, they analyze Department of Agriculture test data to identify which fresh fruits and vegetables are most and least contaminated with pesticide residues. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests found residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides on nearly 70% of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S.! Before running these tests, the USA washes, scrubs, and peels these fruits and vegetables just like a consumer would, so these pesticide residues would likely be in the end product of any meal you were thinking about preparing while wandering through those grocery store aisles.

Why is it important to avoid pesticides in our food?

Pesticide-free food is also known as organic food. When food is organic, it’s rich with phytonutrients that reduce inflammation, which can cause illnesses, aches, pains, skin conditions, exhaustion, depression, and more.

Diets low in pesticides or free of pesticides have also been linked to improved fertility and birth outcomes, reduced incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and lower BMI, and reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, just to name a few.

It’s especially important for babies and children to avoid pesticides, as they are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects.

There can be barriers, however, to accessing organic produce. A diet of entirely organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables is often more costly or hard to access for many Americans. That’s why the EWG guide is so useful, because it provides a straightforward guide to which produce we should prioritize when we shop organic.  If possible, try to buy all organic produce.

So which fruits or vegetables should you always buy organic this year?

The following are the EWG’s 2021 Dirty Dozen, aka the fruits and vegetables that you should always make sure you buy organic when you pick them up from the grocery store this year.

The EWG 2021 Dirty Dozen:

  1. Strawberries 
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines 
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Peaches
  9. Pears
  10. Bell and hot peppers
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes 

Which fruits and vegetables are the “cleanest,” a.k.a. the produce with the very least amount of pesticide residue? The following are the EWG’s 2021 Clean Fifteen. You don’t have to prioritize buying these fruits and vegetables organic when you’re shopping.

The EWG 2021 Clean Fifteen:

  1. Avocados 
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Broccoli 
  10. Cabbage
  11. Kiwi
  12. Cauliflower 
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Cantaloupe