Fruits and Vegetables With the Most Pesticide Residue

More Americans are seeking out organic food or produce free of pesticides and other chemicals. But can you escape the pesticide residues on foods, and is it always worth it to shell out the dollars for organics?

Some produce is worse than others, according to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit that performs research and advocacy on toxic chemicals, among other things.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a pesticide residue database, and its findings indicate 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products present on the thousands of produce samples it analyzed. The fruits and vegetables were washed and in some cases peeled before being tested.

EWG analyzed the USDA tests and found that nearly 70% of samples of 48 types of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues.

EWG's research has found that people who eat five fruits and vegetables a day from this list consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Above, workers spray pesticide on a strawberry crop.

This is the EWG's list of popular fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue:

1. Strawberries
1. Strawberries
Photo: Shutterstock

Strawberries are the EWG's worst offender. Strawberries tested by the USDA in 2014 and 2015 contained an average of 7.7 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.3 pesticides per sample for all other produce, according to the newest EWG analysis.

Strawberry growers use poisonous gases (some developed for chemical warfare) to sterilize fields before planting, the EWG reports. They are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.

2. Spinach
2. Spinach
Photo: Shutterstock

The latest tests by the USDA showed a sharp increase in pesticide residues on non-organic spinach since the crop was last tested a few years ago.

3. Nectarines
3. Nectarines
Photo: Shutterstock

Some of the residue found on nectarines included neurotoxins and bee toxins.

4. Apples
4. Apples
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In 2014, EWG reported that a pesticide called DPA was widely used on non-organic American apples. DPA was banned in the European Union in 2012 because its makers could not show it did not pose a risk to human health.

5. Peaches
5. Peaches
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More than 98% of peaches tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.

6. Pears
6. Pears
Photo: Shutterstock

Pear samples were washed before testing. The majority of pears tested were grown in the U.S., not imported. The pesticides found included the bee-killing insecticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid.

7. Cherries
7. Cherries
Photo: Shutterstock

Some of the 42 pesticides found on cherries by the USDA contain neurotoxins and developmental or reproductive toxins, according to What'sOnMyFood.org.

8. Grapes
8. Grapes
Photo: Shutterstock

A single sample of grapes contained 15 pesticides, the EWG reported in 2016. Above, grapes are harvested in California.

9. Celery
9. Celery
Photo: Shutterstock

View a list of the 64 pesticide residues that the USDA found on celery.

10. Tomatoes
10. Tomatoes
Photo: Shutterstock

Tomatoes are No. 10 on the list, while cherry tomatoes came in at No. 14.

11. Sweet Bell Peppers
11. Sweet Bell Peppers
Photo: Shutterstock

A single sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides..

12. Potatoes
12. Potatoes
Photo: Shutterstock

The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce, the EWG reported in 2016.

13. Cucumbers
13. Cucumbers
Photo: Shutterstock

The USDA found residue of 86 pesticides on cucumber samples. China is a top producer of cucumbers, and they are grown in all regions of the U.S.

14. Cherry Tomatoes
14. Cherry Tomatoes
Photo: Shutterstock

Cherry tomatoes had slightly less pesticide residue than standard tomatoes, which are No. 10 on this list.

15. Lettuce
15. Lettuce
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The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 52 pesticide residues on lettuce. Above, farmworkers harvest and package Romaine lettuce in central California.

16. Imported Snap Peas
16. Imported Snap Peas
Photo: Shutterstock

The rankings typically combine testing results for domestic and imported fruits and vegetables, unless there is a significant difference between the food's score.

17. Domestic Blueberries
17. Domestic Blueberries
Photo: Shutterstock

Domestic blueberries had more pesticide residue than the imported ones, which are No. 20 on this list.

18. Hot Peppers
18. Hot Peppers
Photo: Shutterstock

Hot peppers, along with leafy greens (No. 19) were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are considered toxic to the human nervous system. 

19. Kale/Collard Greens
19. Kale/Collard Greens
Photo: Shutterstock

Like the hot peppers, leafy greens — kale and collard greens — were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health.

20. Imported Blueberries
20. Imported Blueberries
Photo: Shutterstock

Imported blueberries typically come from Canada and South America.

21. Domestic Green Beans
21. Domestic Green Beans
Photo: Shutterstock

Green beans are grown in several parts of the U.S., the top producing states are Wisconsin, Florida and New York.

22. Plums
22. Plums
Photo: Shutterstock

See a list of the 44 pesticide residues found by the USDA on plums.

23. Tangerines
23. Tangerines
Photo: Shutterstock

The fruit is peeled before being tested.

24. Raspberries
24. Raspberries
Photo: Shutterstock

Visit the  EWG site to see how it comes up with its ranking.

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This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.

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