What To Buy Organic

It may not always be feasible (or you may simply not want) to buy everything organic. In some cases, your local grocery stores may not carry organic options, or maybe you just can’t stomach the cost of organic produce.

But did you know that some produce selections contain way more pesticide residue than others, and that this varies from year to year? For example, the last EWG analysis found that 60% of kale sold in the US was contaminated with the pesticide Dacthal/DCPA, which the European Union banned in 2009 and the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen. Yikes!

What to buy organic 2021 on 100 Days of Real Food

Because of this—and the fact that organic produce is not treated with synthetic pesticides—it makes sense to pay a little extra for organic kale when possible. On the other hand, we almost always buy conventional avocados to save money, knowing there is little risk of pesticide contamination.

But who wants to pore through test reports to figure all this out?? Fortunately, we don’t have to because the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done the work for us. Their ever-changing “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists make the difficult decision of “What to buy organic?” so much easier!

Why Buy Organic

Nearly 70% of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues, and these tests are done even after they had been washed and peeled just as you would prepare them at home.

It should be pretty clear why consuming these foods with high levels of pesticides is important, but if you still need some convincing, one French study showed that those with the highest frequency of organic food consumption had 25% fewer cancers than individuals who did not eat organic food1. That’s enough for me to make sure I feed my family organic when possible.

While we know it’s not always possible to avoid conventional produce, the Dirty Dozen List shows you the fruits and veggies that had the most residual pesticides. These are the items we should try to buy organic when we can, and not just in the produce aisle. For example, apples are in the top 5 on this list, so I try to purchase organic applesauce and juice, as well.

Foods You Should Buy Organic

I’ve said this before, but I feel that it deserves to be said again … if you can’t buy organic, eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating any fruits or vegetables at all.

With that said, this is the list of produce that should be bought organic when possible. The Dirty Dozen List was put together by the EWG with data that was found by the USDA and FDA tests that show produce with the most detected pesticide residues. I like to stock up on the frozen organic bags of most of these, which makes it cheaper and more convenient.

  1. Strawberriesstrawberries on the dirty dozen

  2. Spinachspinach on the dirty dozen

  3. KaleKale on the dirty dozen

  4. Nectarinesnectarines on the dirty dozen

  5. ApplesApples on the dirty dozen list-01

  6. Grapesgrapes on the dirty dozen

  7. Cherriescherries on the dirty dozen list

  8. PeachesPeaches on the dirty dozen

  9. Pearspears on dirty dozen

  10. Bell and hot PeppersPeppers on the dirty dozen

  11. Celerycelery on the dirty dozen

  12. Tomatoestomatoes on the dirty dozen

Recipes That Include Dirty Dozen Produce

Foods You Don’t Need to Buy Organic

Now that you know which foods you should buy organic, what about those that you don’t necessarily need to? The EWG’s Clean 15  is a list of the top produce that contains few to no detected pesticide residues. Good thing most of my favorites are on this list!

  1. Avocadosavocado on the clean fifteen

  2. Sweet cornsweet corn on the clean fifteen

  3. Pineapplespineapples on the clean fifteen

  4. Onionsonions on the clean fifteen

  5. Papayaspapaya on the clean fifteen

  6. Sweet peas (frozen)sweet peas on the clean fifteen

  7. Eggplantseggplant on the clean fifteen

  8. Asparagusasparagus on the clean fifteen

  9. Broccolibroccoli on the clean fifteen

  10. Cabbagecabbage on the clean fifteen

  11. Kiwikiwi on the clean fifteen

  12. Cauliflowercauliflower on the clean fifteen

  13. Mushroomsmushrooms on the clean fifteen

  14. Honeydew melonshoneydew on the clean fifteen

  15. Cantaloupecantaloupes on the clean fifteen

Recipes That Include Clean 15 Produce

It’s important to note that both of these lists, The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, change every year, so bookmark this page and check back regularly for updates based on new test findings. These lists can really help simplify your decision-making at the grocery store. But it’s also important to remember that it’s better to consume conventional fruits and veggies as opposed to none at all!

1.J. Baudry et al., Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption with Cancer Risk. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2018; 178(12):1597-1606. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4357. Available at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2707948


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92 thoughts on “What To Buy Organic”

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  1. Thank you Lisa!!!! So disappointed in the cruel, selfish and greedy things mankind views as acceptable!
    I will be buying as much organic foods as possible to cut down injesting pesticides. You betcha!

  2. Roger Guevremont

    ‘Organic’ and “non-GMO’ are fear-based marketing schemes, designed to induce the consumer to purchase the food the marketing folks want you to eat. There is no science-based concern about the nutrition or pesticide levels in any food in Canada or the USA. GMO food is 100% safe. If you think not, just investigate and you’ll discover the truth (if you care to know the truth).
    Example to read:

    1. Really?! You don’t think there’s a connection between the heavily sprayed GMO crops and the state of our gut? The hybridization of wheat and genetic modification of other crops is destroying the good bacteria in our digestive systems. These. crops are HEAVILY sprayed with glyphosate. This chemical inhibits our detoxification pathyways; inhibits the absorption of minerals; and it inhibits the activation of Vit. D which is the vitamin that is the gene connector that affects our brain.. Glyphosate has been proven to destroy microorganisms in soil and it acts as an antibiotic in our body. Our entire microbiome, which is 80% of our immune system, is adversely affected. We have to change our food supply and go back to traditional farming. Food is information to our body–it signals our DNA. We are at the point now where our bodies don’t know how to handle what they’re being given. Read “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, M.D.

    1. eScruggs7@gmail.com

      One would only know if the food is organic if you actually grow them yourself. Otherwise,there are plenty of lies being told.

  3. It is impossible to avoid chemicals or we wouldn’t exist! Also you are misleading people when you say that organic means no pesticides are sprayed. In fact many organic crops are sprayed with organic pesticides. This is not better or worse just a different farming method. All pesticides are tested and must meet safety regulations. It is the dose and form that are important. For example extremely high rates of organic manure can be detrimental. farmers – organic and conventional- work carefully to use the right rates and farming practices to provide healthy, safe food in a sustainable way. Also it does frustrate me when people want to avoid genetically modified food that uses a very precise science to alter or insert a gene yet have no problem eating an organic food that may have been developed or altered using mutagenesis- which can occur naturally or the result of a mutagen such as irridation. Yes let’s eat healthy but also get educated so your decisions are based on fact not someone like food babe who Uses fear mo gearing to drive her own agenda!

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Hi Diane. She wasn’t asking a question but rather making a statement to express her opinion.

  4. Seeing Citric Acid listed in Common ingredients derived from GMO risk list makes me think about the tins of Chopped tomatoes I buy. Other than the tomatoes it’s the only other ingredient. Does this mean they are not advised?? Don’t know where else (in UK) I could buy them just as they are with out Citric Acid.

      1. Hi and thank you. Unfortunately here in UK GNP listed foods I have never seen. Not a common occurrence here yet. I will ensure to buy organic at least. Many thanks.

  5. This may sound like a ridiculous question, but if I don’t know, I must ask! When buying corn and summer squash/zucchini, in what form do I need to buy those organic because of GMO’s? It is just when buying them frozen or canned, or does this apply to fresh corn and zucchini/squash? I was just thinking about this the other day, with all of the information on Monsanto and their use of GMO’s, especially with corn. The use of the word “crop” makes me think I do need to buy organic for these fresh items, but I could be wrong.

    We generally grow our own zucchini, but corn is another story. I like to buy the fresh stocks in the summer and cut them off the cobb and freeze. Thanks for any information you are able to provide.

  6. What do organic farmers spray with? A facebook friend said most organic type sprays do not work as well and they have to spray a lot more, so what do they spray with? THANKS!

  7. I just read this list and clicked on the Non-GMO project link, which says that there are no GMO potatoes in commercial production and are considered “low risk.” So now I’m really confused.

    1. Christie, I believe that means that potatoes are low risk for being GMO but that doesn’t mean farmers don’t use lots of pesticides on them. So you’re good in the GMO category, but still need to use caution b/c of the pesticides. Still best to buy organic if you’re able.

  8. I am so glad to have found your website. My family switched to eating real food about 3 weeks ago. I was so worries that organics were going to break the bank, especially since I have three teenagers, but it hasn’t been that way at all! Thanks for keeping this topic fresh in our minds! :-)

  9. Thanks for the GMO list! There have been many dirty dozen lists floating around, but I haven’t seen the GMO list. Have you seen a longer list of products to avoid?

      1. Oh ok thanks! I hadn’t seen that full list. Kind of weird considering the list I had from I thought last year said blueberries were one of the worst for pesticides?

  10. I used your template this week. I was skeptical. I thought mine worked just fine. I feel like using yours was quite successful. I have meals planned, not just groceries bought. And I even came in under budget. Thank you!

  11. Any thoughts on produce/veggie spray? I have been trying to buy organic for the most part but I HATE organic apples so I thought I would try the spray to clean off all the yucky stuff. How do you feel about the sprays? Do you believe they really work?

    Thanks :)

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Angela. Most of what I have read about washes is that they are little more effective at removing pesticides than water. And, that any residue that has gone into and through the skin is not removable. Since apples are at the top of the pesticide list, perhaps you can find an organic variety that you like? I have found fresh organic gala and fuji apples to be crisp and good when you buy them individually rather than buying them bagged. Hope that helps a bit. ~Amy

  12. We are wanting to try this. I have a few questions though…What about pectin? I can a lot, and almost always use pectin in my jams. Also, what about oils like olive oil? I am also guessin that the spray Pam is not OK. So…what do you use to make things nonstick (like if I want to quickly throw an egg in the microwave?)

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Sarah. Since commercial pectin is not a whole food, we did not use pectin in our canning process but instead used a whole apple with natural pectin. We use olive oil in salad dressings and low temperature sauteing. And you can rub a very small amount of coconut oil on surfaces to prevent sticking instead of a spray. Hope that helps. ~Amy

  13. I just learned that if we all start buying organic food, most of the world will starve, because not enough food will be produced. Shouldn’t we care for the other people too?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello. Of course we should….but it is not at all a black and white issue. There are many passionate and divergent views on that subject. Here are just a few: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4060, http://www.michaelspecter.com/2009/11/organic-food-genetically-engineered-food-world-hunger-science-and-me-a-mini-mission-statement/, and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/opinion/organic-food-truths-and-fables.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. As for taking care of our own families, following the EWG’s guidelines is a really good idea. All the best. ~Amy

  14. I’m confused. I look at the EWG list of fruits and vegetables regularly. This is not the list I have from them. I have never seen cherry tomatoes on EWG’s list. I’ve also noticed other discrepancies from list to list. How to get the most up to date list of pesticide levels in fruits and veggies?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Kristin. They just updated the list for 2013. That might explain any discrepancies. The links above should take you to the most up to date info. ~Amy

  15. I have trouble finding organic seedless (or any) grapes for my kids. They love grapes, where do you purchase organic ones?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Jesse. Organic grapes can be hard to find unless they are in season or if you are looking specifically at stores which carry a large variety of organic produce such as Earth Fare or Whole Foods. I only occasionally find them at conventional markets or even Trader Joe’s. ~Amy

    2. I get them in our produce box (not totally CSA but a modification and all organic produce). I also stocked up at Whole Foods when they went on a 1 day sale. I made grape juice but next year I plan to stock up extra to freeze too.

    3. Hi Jesse- Try soaking them in a water/vinegar mix. 3 parts water, 1 part white vinegar and soak them for 15-20 minutes. Then sit them out to fully dry on a paper towel. It might not be organic but far better than nothing. The vinegar acts as a disinfectant but completely safe to be digested. Good luck!

  16. So glad for this, was just thinking yesterday I needed to print a list to keep with me- but reading someone say there’s an app makes me super happy. And the GMO’s is newer to me, so very helpful.


  17. Interesting to see that the dirty dozen list changes. The one I printed from the EWG last year is slightly different.

  18. HI,

    If organice is not available, where can I get good info on preparing the fruits/vegetable to limit the exposure to pesticides (washing, peeling, that sort of thing)?

  19. I’m confused about the common ingredients list. So I’m not supposed to eat anything that says vitamin c on the labe?l or that has any vitamins listed? I am eating gluten free but now I’m not supposed to eat anything with xanthan gum? How can I eat anything that way?

    1. @Cathy: if you are baking gluten free, you do not need xanthan or guar gums. You can substitute flax or chia seed, or use psyllium husk/psyllium husk powder. Glutenfreegirl.com has a lot of info on baking without the gums. Surprisingly, most of my gluten free baked goods are much better without the gums (I sell gf goods at my local farmer’s market).

  20. You must try the Green Fin Red and White Table Wines at Trader Joes! It is only a dollar more than the two buck Chuck and its organic! They are both staples on my list! :-)

  21. Yes I try to buy organic top 10 at least but sadly, so much of what we think is organic has ‘wind drift pesticides’ which is known to drift 15 miles….we hope the fight against Monsanto is accomplished sooner than later

  22. I’m also wondering if you see any of these products in something that is organic does that mean they are not GMO? Sometimes when I buy organic granola bars or baby food they have ingredients like asorbic or citric acid? Also, I never see organic celery, cucumbers hot peppers, or grapes, which my family love, but maybe now that summer is coming I’ll be able to find these at a farmer’s market. Thanks for the information.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Courtney. This addresses the question about whether organic means GMO free: http://gmo-awareness.com/2011/05/05/is-organic-always-gmo-free/. Just because a product is labeled organic does not mean it is a healthy choices: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/08/07/gluten-free-multi-grain-and-organic-junk-food/. And yes, organic seasonal fruit and veggies should be in more abundance soon though you should be able to find them in stores like Earth Fare or Whole Foods throughout the year. Hope that helps. ~Amy

    1. My understanding of what I have read about soy (in general, there are many opinions out there) is that it is the processed soy and the abundance of soy that is the problem, plain soy beans and traditianlly made tofu is still considred a healthy food.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello MC. There are many varieties of beets. Sugar beets and red beets are not the same. Sugar beets are almost white in color, have a high sucrose content and are processed into sugar. ~Amy

  23. Thanks for this information. Beyone apples & peaches I always forget what else is in the dirty dozen. What is the app that you use for referencing this? Sounds handy!

  24. I have a 5 month old baby that I am forced to supplement with baby formula. I buy the organic formula but even on the organic formulas ingredient list there are a number of the ingredients derived from GMOs crops. Are these ingredients GMO even though its organic formula? I have done extensive research on baby formula and I find it horrifying that in the US there is not 1 brand of formula sold without many of these ingredients.

    1. Try Baby’s Only Organic formula. It is organic, gmo-free, and uses brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup solids. If it isn’t at your local store, it is easily ordered from Amazon. It is labeled as “Toddler formula” because they encourage breastfeeding until one year but the nutrient makeup is FDA-approved for infants.

    2. Don’t know what the issue for your little one being on formula is, but a lot of people don’t know you can get donated breastmilk. We adopted both our little girls and both had donated breastmilk through a year old! There are groups on Facebook that can get you connected with milk donors. Human Milk for Human Babies is one and Eats on Feets is the other I used. Just in case you were interested in looking into it. :-)

    3. If you haven’t already, go to Le Leche League International (www.llli.org) and you may be able to find ways to increase your production/work with your workplace on allowing pumping, etc. to eliminate the need to suppliment (I am assuming that by suppliment you mean that you are still breastfeeding at least partially). Of course, remember your child needs formula only the first year, after that you can wean to organic milk, or you can continue to breastfeed 2-3 times a day in to the second and thrid year of life.

  25. Great infographic! I think it also important to remind people that, unless purchased organically or from a local ethical farmer, all beef, dairy, eggs, and chicken are fed the genetically modified corn and soy. More and more research is showing that consuming the animals that consume the gmo’s are also dangerous for our health!

  26. This list makes me feel overwhelmed! I wish there was only one kind of food… the healthy organic kind!

  27. I know that this info is based on produce and other ingredients, but what about dairy/meat products? It is my understanding that if it says organic, that the cows could have been fed organic corn and still aren’t as good as they would be if they were grass fed. I would prefer a grass fed cow that isn’t labeled organic (I live in Wyoming…so we have grass fed beef readily available here) over super market beef. I guess dairy is the one of most concern for me…is organic really worth it the extra cost?

  28. Do you know if papaya worldwide is GMO. I live in South Africa where we get beautiful papaya. I am wondering if they are also GMO.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Becky. I think the papaya being referred to here is specific to Hawaii. It is approved for consumption in the US and Canada. From what I’ve read, South African papayas are a completely different variety. We aren’t authorities on this subject, so I encourage you to do additional research. Good luck. ~Amy

  29. Thank you for this! I was just thinking the other day of trying to make something exactly like this to carry with me when I shop. And here it is, all made and ready to go! Excellent!!

  30. Thanks so much. Cost isn’t the problem as much as availability. I drive 2 hrs to a whole foods 2x a month. Just not much at all offered in our hometown. Farmers market is pretty much non existent. So it’s frustrating. If the fruit or veggie is not organically grown in the USA, do you skip it.? Most I see are Mexico organic. Thanks for your reply.!

  31. Thanks for the handy info! Do you have a printable version that doesn’t have the pink background? I hate wasting ink.

  32. Can you give the reference or citation on the yellow and zucchini squash that is gmo? I do not find any in the seed catalogs that are listed as GMO. Who is producing the seed? Thanks.

    1. Hi Sarah – Both the links in the article (The Environmental Working Group and Non-GMO Project) reference this info, but you can also find it at GMO Compass. Only a small percentage of yellow and zucchini squash in the US is GMO, but since there is no labeling of GMOs in the US you have to buy organic or know the farmer if you are intent on avoiding them.

    1. Hi Jill – Personally we usually buy organic if it is an option. I have the Dirty Dozen app on my iPhone, and I reference it when shopping (it includes a ranked list of 45 fruits and veggies). However, the other day I bought a conventional pineapple because it was significantly cheaper and is way down on the list (47/49) in terms of pesticide residue. It’s also important to note that you’re better off buying conventional fruits and veggies than none at all if organic is not an option due to availability or cost.