Have you heard about the Dirty Dozen? Let’s take a closer look at this and what it means for you and your family.
What exactly is the Dirty Dozen?
The Dirty Dozen is an annual list created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a United States-based environmental advocacy organization. The list ranks the top 12 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables in the United States that they claim should be avoided due to pesticide residues.
But what the Dirty Dozen list doesn’t tell us is how much residual pesticide is actually on the produce. We need this information to figure out if the amount we’re eating is at a level that could harm our health.
So what about pesticides?
Pesticides are substances that can be from either synthetic or natural sources, and are used on foods to protect them from diseases and pests such as insects and weeds. With the help of pesticides, farmers are able to grow safe, affordable and abundant food for Canadians.
As a dietitian, I worry that the Dirty Dozen list may cause food fear. The fact is both organic and conventional farmers use pesticides to control pests. Just because a pesticide residue is present, doesn’t mean that it poses a risk to our health. In fact, detection technology is now so sophisticated that it can detect parts per billion (think a drop of water in an Olympic size swimming pool). And, Canada has one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world for pesticides. Before a pesticide can even be used on a food product, Health Canada assesses the health impact of any pesticide residues that may be in or on the food. It even takes into account the sensitivities of specific subsets of the population like infants, children and pregnant women.
Health Canada also sets Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), which is the maximum amount of pesticide residue that is allowed to remain on a product when it is used according to the pesticide label – and these residue limits are typically set at least 100 times or more below levels that would have any impact on human health.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspects domestic and imported foods for pesticide residues. Over 99% of the food that is tested is below the MRLs. And in rare cases where the residue level is above the MRL, it does not pose a health risk as the MRL is set significantly below any level of concern.
We all want and deserve safe, nutritious and affordable food for ourselves and our families. Here are some things to consider if you’re concerned about pesticides.
- Put the Dirty Dozen list in perspective. Health Canada states that there is no health risk from eating conventionally grown foods because of pesticide residues. Use this Pesticide Residue Calculator which shows you the number of servings of different fruits and vegetables that we could eat and still not have any adverse effects from pesticide residues. For example, a child could eat 181 servings of strawberries a day (or 1,448 strawberries) without any adverse effects from pesticide residues!
- Wash fruits and veggies very well under cold water. This helps to remove dirt, bacteria, and any tiny amounts of residues which may be on the outer layers of the produce. There’s no need to use soap or detergent. You can also peel the skin on fruits and veggies, however keep in mind that you’d also be peeling away some fibre and nutrients, as well as contributing to food waste.
- Feel good about the food you eat! Enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables every day that are tasty and affordable. Whether they’re organic or conventionally grown, both options are safe, nutritious and important for good health.
Written by Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC – Award-winning dietitian & Co-Founder, n4nn
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post with CropLife Canada. The information shared in the blog are my opinions based on my review of this topic. I consult only with companies which align with my personal and professional values.