My Dirty Dozen List

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a “dirty dozen” list each year based on a criminally misleading interpretation of the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service, PDP pesticide residue data.  The data actually demonstrates that the pesticide residues on foods are virtually all lower than the strict tolerances that have been set by the EPA.  What the EWG completely ignores is the information on what chemicals the pesticide residues represents, what level was detected, and what is known about the toxicity  or ecological effects of that chemical (kind of a large omission).  They also fail to mention that each year only 18 or so commodities are tested, so whether a certain fruit or vegetable ends up on the “Dirty” list is really mostly a function of having been included in the PDP study in the first place.  To make matters worse, EWG treats every “detection” the same, even though the risk associated with different residues can easily vary by a factor of 10 million or more.  The press generally covers this nonsense in a completely uncritical fashion, and the net effect is that Americans consume less fresh produce and that only exacerbates our obesity-promoting diet.

I thought it would be good to post my personal list of dangerous foods based on more than 30 years of experience with food and agriculture.  I am generally very confident in the safety and quality of the global food system, particularly the American food industry, but there are foods that I definitely avoid!  Here is the list:

1. Bean sprouts or any other kind of sprouts

2. Organic corn chips

3. Foods sweetened with “fruit juice concentrate” from China

4. Nutmeg from India

5. Foods containing transfats

6. Peanuts from Africa

7. Organic, “ready to cook” meals

8. Raw milk

9.  Agave nectar

10. Artisan breads with whole wheat “berries”

11. Brazil nuts

12. Raw peanuts in the shell

Here is my logic for each of these commodities. (Click the page link below to continue)

Skull image from Simon Strandgaard.

About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)
  • Thanks for the sound reasoning. I was especially impressed that you spoke favorably of irradiating foods, which I think should play a larger role in keeping the food supply safe.

    • Bobby,
      Thanks. I bet there are a lot of Germans who wish their Organic sprouts had been irradiated! I wouldn’t eat a sprout any other way

      • Just to clarify, Steve… you mean that for any kind of sprouts, right? I understood your statement in the post (and had read separately) that organic or not, sprouts carry a higher pathogen risk because of the growing conditions.

        • Jeff,
          absolutely. To make sprouts you take seed (which may easily be contaminated with bacteria) and then incubate them in warm wet conditions which are like Nirvana for the bacteria. Sprouts should either be well cooked or irradiated or avoided

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  • how hard is it to avoid this DD list… piece of cake for all of us…

    go forth and eat healthy mainstream foods…

    • Tom mcmurray,
      Well, I think of apples as a “healthy mainstream food” and it is, in spite of what EWG says. The other thing that EWG fails to mention is that not every crop is tested every year. Last year’s winner, celery, is not suddenly “OK” because the USDA didn’t test it in 2009. They also didn’t test arugala, Brussel sprouts, artichokes or about a hundred other crops. I’m sure they are all safe too, but some year the USDA will demonstrate that and EWG will turn that against them

    • Tom, I re-read your post and I think you are saying the same thing I’m saying. Enjoy!