The truth about strawberries, apples, and grapes we should stop ignoring

Apr 12, 2016 at 6:38 p.m. ET
Image: Malcolm MacGregor/Getty Images

Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases its "Dirty Dozen" list of the most pesticide-ridden produce, and this year's loser surprised me... and made my taste buds cry a little.

Apples have been at the top of the list for the past five years, but this year strawberries took the lead. More than 98 percent of the strawberry samples tested contained pesticide residue. Forty percent of the samples tested positive for the residues of 10 or more different pesticides, earning the fruit the shameful distinction of being the most contaminated produce.

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But why are strawberries, star of shortcakes and smoothies alike, suddenly so much more dangerous than they used to be?

It looks like our year-round cravings for the sweet red berries has led to more industrialized farming practices. The strawberry growing season needs to be longer and crop yields higher in order to meet demand, and this means farmers are spraying more pesticides on them than they used to.

But, luckily, that doesn't mean we have to stop eating strawberries altogether (which is a good thing for my fave morning smoothie!).

More: The health benefits of strawberries

When buying strawberries, always opt for organic. You can try frozen organic strawberries outside of their growing season, or opt for a fruit that's more in season. It's hard to do in the depths of winter, sure, but relatively pesticide-light citrus like oranges and tangerines peak in the colder months, so try snacking on those instead.

Check out the Environmental Working Group's list of 48 produce items tested for pesticide residue, from strawberries (the most pesticide reside) to avocados (the least). Keep it in mind the next time you shop, so you can make sure you're bringing only the safest foods into your home.

Editor's note: A good rule of thumb is, if you eat the peeling you're better off getting organic. If you discard the peeling, it's a little safer to eat conventional. To learn more, check out our Organic shoppers' guide.

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