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The Dirty Dozen - 12 Worst Chemical Residues

What amount of residue is left on your conventionally grown produce?

I think it is an interesting sign of the times, when the search results for “The Dirty Dozen” are now dominated by talk of most contaminated produce, rather than the 1967 War movie.

Whether you are new to the idea of organics or it has been part of your life for a long time, it is always good to know which produce has the higher pesticide use and residues. Interestingly, these residues where still detected even when the produce was washed and in some cases peeled.

What is the EWG?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit, non-partisan US-based organisation with a mission to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, they drive consumer choice and civic action. 

What is the Dirty Dozen?

Some years ago, the EWG started to compile the “Dirty Dozen” which is the list of top 12 foods that contain the most pesticide residue. In 2016, they even added a Dirty Dozen PLUS that includes 2 items of produce that did not meet the requirements to be included in the Dirty Dozen, but the residues that were there, are so toxic, the EWG felt it necessary to create a separate section.

Is the Dirty Dozen relevant to the Australian market?

As with most things, The US market may be stricter in some guidelines or legislation and Australia stronger in others. I believe it is fair to say that as a general rule, the EWG’s findings are relevant to the Australian market too. A classic example is a similar study on strawberries in Australia, showing them to have very high pesticide residues – in line with the EWG’s findings in the USA. Of course there may be difference and some producers may not like to have their crop included here, but this is the best that we have to go on that is independently tested and reported.

The Dirty Dozen

1. Strawberries 5. Celery 9. Tomatoes
2. Apples 6. Grapes 10. Capsicums
3. Nectarines 7. Cherries 11. Cherry Tomatoes
4. Peaches 8. Spinach 12. Cucumbers

The Dirty Dozen PLUS

This special category is for produce that did not meet the requirements for amounts of residue, however they warrant special mention because of the high level of toxicity of the pesticide that is found, even if found in trace amounts. Produce specifically mentioned here include

  • Leafy greens (kale and collard greens) and hot peppers.

Is there a list of produce ‘safe’ to eat conventionally?

The EWG also produces the “Clean Fifteen” which are produce that hold less pesticides residue.   That list includes (* see section on Genetic Engineering.):


1. Avocado 6. Onion 11. Eggplant
2. Sweet Corn * 7. Asparagus 12. Honeydew Melon
3. Pineapple * 8. Mango 13. Grapefruit
4. Cabbage 9. Papaya * 14. Rockmelon
5. Sweet Peas (frozen) 10. Kiwifruit 15. Cauliflower​

Is this list definitive?

The EWG Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are not fail-safe lists but they are a start.

The EWG bases its research on testing by the US EPA. Standards and laws will differ when compared to the Australian industry. However there are a couple of other factors that also need to be considered.

Firstly, there is no allowance in either list for crops that allow Genetic Modification or Engineering (GM or GE). For those who wish to avoid crops grown with GE technology this will need to be taken into account. See below for more information on this in Australia.

The second consideration is the toxicity of the pesticides used. Other than those in the extreme toxicity group (see Dirty Dozen Plus), there is not a scale of toxicity of the pesticide residue found. Just the amount of residue.

Which leads to the third consideration – the list is simply a comparative list. From my understanding, all the produce is tested and all ranked and the Dirty Dozen has the most residue and, in actual fact, the Clean 15 just has less of it. Interesting way to think of it, really.

Continue below to read about GMO's in Australia, or:

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Genetic Engineering in Australia

 There are currently several crops that are approved in Australia for production with GE (Genetically Engineered) technology. They are:


  • Soybean
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Potato
  • Sugarbeet / cane
  • Cotton
  • Lucerne
  • Rice

There are currently trials underway for the following crops:

  • Pineapple
  • Papayas
  • Wheat
  • Barley

There is further gene technology research underway in Australia for Banana’s.

Pineapple, Papaya and Sweet corn are all in the Clean Fifteen but are a potential risk for GE. (See * Clean Fifteen list above).

Where to from here?

Even with the above limitations of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, it is a great place to start.

If you are new to the organic world, if you are just starting out on your health journey or if you simply have a tight budget that only allows for a few key organic items, it is great to have a map to suggest where to start.

I would additionally suggest to start where you or your family consume the most. Is it a dozen apples a week? Do you have mashed potato every night? Do you enjoy half a grapefruit for breakfast most days? Look at what you and your family eat the most and start there.

Certified Organic

Of course when you are getting organic, I urge you to ensure it is certified organic. That is the only way you can be assured of actually getting what you pay for and what you want. Not sure what the difference is between certified organic and organic or farm fresh? Have a look at our article explaining the differences.

We would love to help you on your health journey. Have a look here at what is available to you at OneTable Organics and rest assured that we only source 100% Certified Organic produce and grocery. That truly is peace of mind.


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About the author

Judith has been a passionate organic foodie for more than 10 years.  She loves finding natural alternatives for anything from garden pests to cooking, from cleaning to skincare and is very honest about the idea that convenience is not always for the betterment of society.

Other passions for Judith include Ben, their 4 kiddos, her faith, camping and most things to do with gardens and salt water (not together!). 

Judith is also the co-founder of One Table, an organic food movement whose goals are to help others create healthy families, to recreate a fairer food system in Australia and globally, and to support farmers and producers who love what they do, which is giving back to the land by embracing organic and bio-dynamic practices. 

When Judith isn't writing blogs, doing the accounts, working in the One Table shop, or spinning the plates of a household of 6, she loves her hammock and a sassy Regency era novel.