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Food Contamination


Articles on Food Contamination

Refer also to the page on Genetically Altered Food





The 12 Most Contaminated and
the 12 Least Contaminated Foods

From the Environmental Working Group

    In a study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, in collaboration with the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal,
researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine
volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group.  Like most of us, the people tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live
near an industrial facility.

    Scientists refer to this contamination as a person's body burden. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to
the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has
never been studied.

Report Card: Pesticides in Produce

    Adjusting your eating habits can lower your intake of pesticides -- sometimes dramatically so. Substitute organic for conventional produce that
is consistently contaminated with pesticides. When organic is not available, eat fruits and vegetables with consistently low pesticide loads.

    An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by 90 percent by
avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and
vegetables will expose a person to nearly 20 pesticides per day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to a fraction over 2 pesticides per day. Less dramatic comparisons will produce less dramatic reductions, but without doubt using the Guide provides people with a way to make choices that lower pesticide exposure in the diet.


 12 Most Contaminated
Buy These Organic

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• <>Bell Peppers
• <>Celery
• <>Cherries
• <>Imported Grapes
• <>Nectarines
• <>Peaches
• <>Pears
• <>Potatoes
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• <>Strawberries

Most Contaminated: The Dirty Dozen

Consistent with two previous EWG investigations, fruits topped the list of the consistently most contaminated fruits and vegetables, with eight of the
12 most contaminated foods. Among the top six were four fruits, with peaches leading the list, then strawberries, apples and nectarines. Pears,
cherries, red raspberries, and imported grapes were the other four fruits in the top 12. Among these eight fruits:
    * Nectarines had the highest percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (97.3 percent), followed by pears (94.4 percent) and peaches
(93.7 percent).
    * Nectarines also had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single sample ­ 85.3 percent had two or more pesticide residues ­
followed by peaches (79.9 percent) and cherries (75.8 percent).
   * Peaches and raspberries had the most pesticides detected on a single sample with nine pesticides on a single sample, followed by strawberries
and apples, where eight pesticides were found on a single sample.
   * Peaches had the most pesticides overall with some combination of up to 45 pesticides found on the samples tested, followed by raspberries with
39 pesticides and apples and strawberries, both with 36.

Spinach, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers are the vegetables most likely to expose consumers to pesticides. Among these four vegetables:
    * Celery had the highest of percentage of samples test positive for pesticides (94.5 percent), followed by spinach (83.4 percent) and potatoes
(79.3 percent).
    * Celery also had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single vegetable (78 percent of samples), followed by spinach (51.8
percent) and sweet bell peppers (48.5 percent).
    * Spinach was the vegetable with the most pesticides detected on a single sample (10 found on one sample), followed by celery and sweet bell
peppers (both with nine).
    * Sweet bell peppers were the vegetable with the most pesticides overall with 39, followed by spinach at 36 and celery and potatoes, both
with 29.


Least Contaminated:
Consistently Clean

The vegetables least likely to have pesticides on them are sweet corn, avocado, cauliflower, asparagus, onions, peas and broccoli.
    * Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the pea and broccoli samples had no detectable pesticides. Among the other vegetables on the least-contaminated list, there were no detectable residues on 90 percent or more of the samples.
    * Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on any of these least contaminated vegetables. Broccoli had the highest likelihood, with a 2.6 percent chance of more than one pesticide when ready to eat. Avocado and corn both had the lowest chance with zero samples containing more than one pesticide when eaten.
    * The greatest number of pesticides detected on a single sample of any of these low-pesticide vegetables was three as compared to 10 found on spinach, the most contaminated crop with the most residues.
    * Broccoli and onions both had the most pesticides found on a single vegetable crop at up to 17 pesticides but far fewer than the most contaminated vegetable, sweet bell peppers, on which 39 were found.

The five fruits least likely to have pesticide residues on them are pineapples, mangoes, bananas, kiwi and papaya.
    * Fewer than 10 percent of pineapple and mango samples had detectable pesticides on them and fewer than one percent of samples had more than one
pesticide residue.
    * Though 53 percent of bananas had detectable pesticides, multiple residues are rare with only 4.7 percent of samples containing more than one
residue. Kiwi and papaya had residues on 23.6 percent and 21.7 percent of samples, respectively, and just 10.4 percent and 5.6 percent of samples,
respectively, had multiple pesticide residues.

12 Least Contaminated

• Asparagus
• Avocados
• Bananas
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Corn (sweet)
• Kiwi
• Mangos
• Onions
• Papaya
• Pineapples
• Peas (sweet)


Should I stop eating certain foods?

We recommend that you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables because they're essential to a healthy diet. But you can and should cut back on pesticides--just as you might cut back on fat, calories or cholesterol.  Right now, buying organic food is the best option to reduce your intake of pesticides if (like us) you're skeptical about government and chemical company claims that pesticides are "safe." If you want to eat conventionally produced fruits and vegetables that usually have fewer
pesticides, you can change your eating habits to do so.

What about washing?

Washing will not change the rank of the fruits and vegetables in the Guide. That's because nearly all of the data used to create these lists comes from
the USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP) where the foods are washed and prepared for normal consumption prior to testing for pesticides (apples are
washed and cored, bananas are peeled, etc.).

While washing fresh produce may help reduce pesticide residues, it clearly does not eliminate them. Nonetheless, produce should be washed before it is eaten because washing does reduce levels of some pesticides. However, other pesticides are taken up internally into the plant, are in the fruit, and cannot be washed off. Others are formulated to bind to the surface of the crop and do not easily wash off. Peeling reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel.

The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce, and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Additional Pages:>News Release: October 21, 2003>Related News Clips>Report Card: Pesticides in Produce>Wallet Guide to Pesticides in Produce>Complete Listing of Test Results>Methodology: How We Measured Contamination>Why Reducing Pesticide Exposure Is Smart>Fresh Choices cookbook


Mixing the common additives aspartame an artificial sweetener and monosodium glutamate (MSG) causes nerve cell damage, say researchers at the University of Liverpool. The results from a two-year study were recently published in the journal Toxicological Sciences. The researchers found the additives were much more potent in combination with each other than on their own. Mice were exposed to concentrations of MSG and aspartame relative to what a child would receive in an average snack and drink. Researchers were surprised to see the additives interfered with nerve signaling systems and actually stopped the nerve cells from growing. Aspartame is commonly found in diet drinks, candies and flavored medicines, while MSG is frequently found in chips, processed cheese and many processed foods.
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