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Shopper’s Guide to Food and Pesticides


There’s nothing like the taste of delicious wholesome fruits and vegetables. However, biting into that apple or munching on that stalk of celery may be exposing you or your family to something that might bite back in years to come.


Okay, the bad news first. Pesticides. Small doses of agricultural chemicals may be causing lasting damage to human health. Many commonly used pesticides have direct links to endocrine disorders, autoimmune diseases, neurological and behavioral disorders, ADHD, autism and cancers. Children and fetuses are most vulnerable to pesticide exposure due to their less-developed immune systems and because their bodies and brains are still developing.


Now, here’s the good news! Consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent if they buy organic, avoid eating the most contaminated foods and choose the least contaminated foods instead!


The Dirty Dozen

The following are known to contain the greatest amount of pesticide residue. Consider buying organic instead. These are listed in ascending order, starting with the highest levels of pesticide contamination.




Bell peppers







Imported grapes




Here’s the kicker: Many pesticides are present on the peels of fruits and veggies we eat whole. Peeling and washing may help reduce but not eliminate pesticide exposure. Plus, peeling may result in the loss of valuable vitamins and nutrients, especially fiber, most often concentrated in the peel.


The Clean 15

The following are known to have the least amount of pesticide residue. They are listed in ascending order, starting with the lowest levels of pesticide contamination.




Sweet corn




Sweet peas








Sweet potatoes


Organic certification

The national Organics Standards Program, a government regulated and third party certified program, forbids the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and fungicides. Certified organic farmers may only use those methods that are deemed acceptable by the program’s strict rules and regulations. Therefore, any chemical residues found on organic foods are at a minimum, if they exist at all. When you choose USDA certified organic, you can be certain that those foods were grown to very specific guidelines that are consistent from farm to farm, no matter how large or small.


What to ask at the Farmers Market

Farmers market are a great resource for getting fresh local produce into your kitchen Not all farms are USDA certified organic. Some may say they farm sustainably or beyond organic and some may claim nothing other than “farm fresh.” If they aren’t USDA certified organic, talk to the farmer of farm stand operator and ask how they grow their crops, what kinds of farm chemicals they use and how they manage weeds. It’s always better to know.


  • Get more fresh, organic produce into your meal plans!
  • Plan menus and meals in advance – this gives you a shopping strategy
  • Shop the sales and clip those coupons
  • Buy from the bulk aisles, getting only the amount you need
  • Create a shopping list and prioritize produce purchases
  • Wash, dry and properly store produce to ensure a longer life
  • Shop in season for the best in flavor and ripeness
  • Eat locally grown food and get to know your farmer
  • Plant a garden and grow your own organic produce
  • For as little as $25 a year, become an Outpost owner to take advantage of special owner-only sales and the best local, organic produce around!



The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization devoted to human and environmental health


What’s on My Food?, a searchable database designed to make the problem of pesticide exposure visible and more understandable


Organic Center for up-to-date information and research on organic farming and nutritional health


Organic Consumers Association, a public interest organization campaigning for health, justice and sustainability


Food Sleuth Investigative Nutrition, a program of community radio KOPN 89.5, Columbia, Missouri.

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