Courtesy of MARION OWEN

Kale is ranked as No. 3 on the Environmental Working Group’s 2019 Dirty Dozen list. 

My food dehydrator has been working overtime lately. Today, it’s tomatoes and bananas. Kale is next. As I researched how to dry kale, however, I cam across and article that listed kale as one of the most contaminated foods in the United States. How can that be?

More on the later, but I want to highlight pumpkins as well, since they center stage this time of year, what with Halloween looming its sugary head. It’s hard to miss the large totes of large orange squashes in our local stores. Did you know that an amazing 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown each year. Just for fun, conduct a quick Google search for “scary jack o lanterns” and you’ll discover hundreds of images with frightening faces.

Scarier still, is that most pumpkins you’ll handle this fall, as either fresh or canned, are grown in large farming operations that use a variety of chemicals and pesticides, including clomazone and ethalfluralin.

I’m not trying to rain on your Halloween parade, but if you are concerned about what’s in and on your food, you’re not alone. A recent Consumer Reports found that pesticides are a concern for almost 90 percent of Americans. 

According to Consumer Reports, “The risk from pesticides on conventional produce (I’m not certain what ‘conventional’ means) varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown.”

Apparently, the differences can be dramatic. For instance, eating one serving of green beans from the U.S. is 200 times riskier than eating a serving of U.S.-grown broccoli.

“We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. For instance, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body.”

Think about that a moment. Taking a shower or bath, might get you clean on the outside, but what about the inside? 

What can you do to reduce your exposure to pesticides?

Here are two important steps:

1. The Golden Rule is to always wash produce before eating them, especially if you plan to eat them fresh (in the raw form).

2. Second, grow and/or buy organic produce, because the only way to be sure that you are eating 100 percent, unadulterated, unsprayed products is by growing them yourself or by purchasing certified organic food. Buying local is the best option, but if you’re in the grocery store, look for those sticky labels with codes that start with the number “9”. 

Is there a way to be shopper-savvy?

Enter the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. In addition to investigating such questions as, do you know what’s in your shampoo? What’s lurking in the cleaners underneath your sink? the EWG has created a “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” to help consumers make the healthiest choices at the store. (Download at www.ewg.org/foodnews)

Of course, it’s better to eat fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown ones, over processed foods and other less healthy alternatives.

Below is the EWG’s 2019 Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen lists. 

The 2019 Dirty Dozen (listed from worst to not-as-bad)

Strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, hot peppers.



Kale’s popularity as a health food rich in vitamins and antioxidants has soared in recent years. So it might be a surprise to see it listed as No. 3 on the Dirty Dozen. Nearly 60 percent of kale samples sold in the U.S. were contaminated with residues of a pesticide DCPA, often marketed as Dacthal.

The EPA classified Dacthal as a possible carcinogen in 1995. In 2005, its major manufacturer voluntarily terminated its registration for use on several U.S. crops, including artichokes, beans and cucumbers. Dacthal exposure has been linked to increases in liver and thyroid tumors. Studies have also found that its breakdown products were highly persistent in the environment and could contaminate drinking water sources.

In 2009 the European Union prohibited all uses of Dacthal. Yet it is still used in the U.S. on crops including kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, eggplant and turnips. In 2016, about 500,000 pounds of Dacthal were sprayed in the U.S. 


THE 2019 CLEAN 15 (list from the cleanest to not-as-clean)

Avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, sweet peas (frozen), onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms, honeydew melons. 

The data used to create the EWG’s Shopper’s are from produce tested as it is typically eaten, that means washed and, when applicable, peeled. For example, bananas are peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches are washed. That said, remember that some crops absorb pesticides systemically (absorbed by the plants), which means washing fruits and vegetables isn’t the end-all solution. 

While pumpkins don’t appear on the Dirty Dozen list, they don’t show up on the Clean Fifteen list either. To reduce your exposure to scary fruits and vegetables, know what you’re eating (or feeding your family) and download the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.



Flowering bulbs are in at Sutliff’s. Plant them ASAP for a beautiful display next spring and to provide food for bumblebees emerging from their winter dens.

Remember to be bear aware. Don’t leave smokers (fish, not humans) outside. Place all wet and potentially “fragrant” garbage in plastic bags (and tie them off) before setting them in roll carts or dumpsters.


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