June 13th, 2011
06:30 AM ET

Apples top 2011 'dirty dozen' list, says group

Apples are the most chemically contaminated produce, says a new report by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit focused on public health.

The report suggests buying organic apples instead of conventional, and names other fruits and vegetables that rank highest in pesticides. Organic produce is grown using materials of plant or animal origin, instead of chemicals. On the "dirty dozen" list are:

1. Apples

2. Celery

3. Strawberries

4. Peaches

5. Spinach

6. Imported nectarines

7. Imported grapes

8. Sweet bell peppers

9. Potatoes

10. Domestic blueberries

11. Lettuce

12. Kale/collard greens

The group also lists the "Clean 15," or those that rank lowest in pesticide residues. These are:

1. Onions

2. Sweet Corn

3. Pineapples

4. Avocado

5. Asparagus

6. Sweet peas

7. Mangoes

8. Eggplant

9. Domestic cantaloupe

10. Kiwi

11. Cabbage

12. Watermelon

13. Sweet Potatoes

14. Grapefruit

15. Mushrooms

"Though buying organic is always the best choice, we know that sometimes people do not have access to that produce or cannot afford it," EWG President Ken Cook said. "Our guide helps consumers concerned about pesticides to make better choices among conventional produce, and lets them know which fruits and vegetables they may want to buy organic."

However, United Fresh Produce, the trade association representing produce companies, calls the report "misleading."

In a statement to CNN, the group said:

"At a time when medical experts strongly urge Americans to realize the health benefits from eating more fruits and vegetables, it is irresponsible to mislead consumers with a sensational publicity stunt disguised as science. While its authors admit the 'health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,' the Dirty Dozen list will almost certainly discourage many people from eating the recommended amounts of fresh produce and potentially diminish the nutrition and health of millions of Americans."

The EWG report is an update from the 2010 one. It is based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Samples were tested as they were normally eaten- washed, and sometimes peeled.

"The pesticide data that USDA publishes each year provides regulators, scientists, farmers, and consumers important insights about ongoing challenges as well as significant progress in the use of pesticides," a USDA spokesman said in a statement.

"Our annual report shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances set by the EPA."

Registered dietitian Ann Dunaway Teh has some advice for shoppers watching their wallets.

"If you are on a food budget but you are concerned about pesticide residue and whether or not you should be buying organic foods, then this guide may be a good place to start for buying organic foods," she said.

"The wider variety of fruits and vegetables that you eat, the lower your risk overall to pesticide residues."

She says peeling may help to remove some of the pesticide residue, but also lost are some of the nutrients and fiber.

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