Clean 15

Biggest Bang for Your Organic Produce Buck

Posted on Updated on


It’s old news that we should be feeding our families organic food if possible. Organically grown produce has not been exposed to herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones and are not GMOs. This is important because the first three chemicals have been documented as endocrine disruptors.

What are endocrine disruptors? Well, they alter the normal functioning of human hormones and may interfere with the body’s endocrine system (hormone system) and produce adverse developmental, neurological, immune and reproductive effects. Endocrine disruptors may be found in lots of everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides on produce. I’ll give a more in depth explanation of endocrine disruptors and where they lurk in your home in later posts. For now we’ll focus on produce.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 80% of our pesticide exposure comes from the food we eat, the other 20% comes from our drinking water and pesticides we use around our homes.

I don’t want to take any chances that my kids will be exposed to these nasties, so I have a strategy to help me navigate the produce aisle.

If you’re like I am, you don’t have a gazillion dollars to buy every item on your grocery list in organic form. So, how is a person supposed to know the best way to get the biggest bang for your organic produce buck? Below is my “rule of thumb” to help you decide whether to buy organic:

Buy organic if:

  • The skin is consumed
  • If it is a leafy green
  • If it is a white or yellow potato

To take it a step further, search the plethora of apps devoted to organic foods. One of my favorite “go to” sources for food safety is the Environmental Working Group. You can easily download their app to your phone for handy reference on whether or not to buy organic. Just search the App Store for “EWG Dirty Dozen.”  They also have produced a printable list if you prefer. After a while you won’t even need the list.

Below is a recap of the produce that has the highest levels of chemical residue.  I only buy the Dirty Dozen if they are available in organic form.

Dirty Dozen

  • Apples (including apple juice and cider)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Peppers (hot)
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes (white)
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Peppers (sweet)

Additional items I always buy organic are dairy products, meat, eggs and rice. More about these particular items in a later post.

You don’t always need to buy organic

If you shop at Costco, you’ll be happy to learn that their tomatoes and bell peppers are grown in hothouses to exacting standards that include no herbicides or pesticides. Although they are not “technically” organic, I’m happy to buy them. Read more about Costco tomatoes here.

Below is a list of produce that consistently tests as “cleanest” with respect to chemical residue and so I don’t spend the extra cash on the organic variety.

Clean Fifteen

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cantaloupe
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Sweet Potatoes

While I think it’s a good idea to limit pesticide exposure if possible, especially when kids are involved, scientists and health experts overwhelmingly agree that the mere presence of pesticide residues on food does not mean they are harmful. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to my kid’s developing brains. I mean, how could fewer nasty chemicals be harmful?

What if organic isn’t available?

In many communities in America, organic is simply not available. I know this…I used to live in North Dakota for a decade when my kids were babies, and for many of those years I couldn’t find an organic blueberry to save my life!  If organic produce is not available, by all means buy the conventionally grown varieties and wash them well! Simply washing them with a washcloth or scrub brush goes a long way to removing pesticide residue on the surface of the produce.

This will make you feel better….

The good news is that conventionally grown produce, is regarded as safe by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA. The database maintained by the U.S.D.A., shows that 99% of the produce tested fell far below the permissible upper limit  level of pesticides and herbicides. This goes for the baby food tested as well!

If you’d like to see a neat calculator showing the amount of “Dirty Dozen” foods you would have to consume to have detrimental effects, click here. You will feel reassured about our food supply!

I hope this post will help with your decisions about whether to buy organic produce. If you have a favorite app or website about organic food, let me know!

See you next time!


To hear the podcast of this post, click the orange link below.
Download this episode (right click and save)