What is the Deal with Organic Produce?

10416_101According to the official USDA National Organic Program, organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of existing resources to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic food is produced without the use of conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients/sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.

Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier must inspect the farm where the food is grown to make sure that the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

When it comes to the environment (soil health and chemical run-off), it is widely accepted that organic farming beats conventional farming hands down.

When it come to nutrient content, there is a scientific divide over whether organic food is more nutritious.

In a recent study from Newcastle University, it was found that concentrations of antioxidants like polyphenols can be 18 to 69 percent higher in organic produce compared with conventional counterparts.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the decision to purchase organic food is not about increasing nutritional value, but rather reducing pesticide exposure. Conventional crops have 4 times more pesticide residues than organic crops.

Recently, the Swedish grocery chain Coop worked with the Swedish Environmental Research Institute to find out what would happen if a family switched from conventionally grown food to exclusively organic food. They performed a 21-day experiment on the Palmberg family.

After a week on the conventional diet, each family member submitted a urine sample where analysts found a number of insecticides, fungicides, and plant growth regulators.

The family then switched to an organic diet and only used organic personal care items (including soap, shampoo, conditioner, etc.) for the next two weeks. During this phase, the researchers took daily urine samples.

The results were dramatic. The pesticide loads in the family members’ bodies dropped in ways that were observable after a single day.

Within two weeks, there was very little evidence of the pesticides and other compounds in their follow-up urine samples.

At start of the experiment, Anette Palmberg explained that she had chosen to eat conventional food because it was less expensive for her big family. By the end of the experiment, said she was reevaluating this tradeoff. “When you hear this, you think about your children,” she said,”There were a whole number of chemicals removed from my kids’ bodies, and I don’t want them back.

There’s no question that people who eat organic produce are exposed to fewer pesticides. A recent study overseen by Cynthia Curl, a researcher at the University of Washington, found that people who eat organic “often or always” have significantly fewer organophosphate insecticides in their urine samples. This is true even though these individuals report eating 70% more servings of fruits and vegetables per day than adults that “rarely or never” purchase organic produce (Curl 2015).

Several long-term observational studies have indicated that organophosphate insecticides may impair children’s brain development.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released an important policy statement that said that children have “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.” The AAP cited research linking pesticide exposures in early life to “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” It advised its members to urge parents to consult “reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables.” The AAP recommended Environmental Working Group’s “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” as one of these reliable sources (AAP 2012).

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a shopping guide that indicates which fruits and vegetables are covered in the most (and least) pesticides. In this guide, the EWG reveals that USDA tests show a total 165 different pesticides appearing on thousands of fruit and vegetables samples.

The EWG understands that many people who want reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce cannot find or afford an all-organic diet. The guide helps these people seek out conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues (the “Clean Fifteen”). The guide also identifies conventionally grown produce that tests high in pesticides (the “Dirty Dozen”), so that efforts can be made to locate organic versions of these items.10415_142 (1)

The Dirty Dozen 2015

This year, the Dirty Dozen includes apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes. Each of these foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and showed higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce items.

Key findings:

  • 99 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

The Dirty Dozen PLUS

The Dirty Dozen has been expanded to include a “Plus” category that highlights two types of food which are contaminated with trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides. Leafy greens (kale and collard greens) and hot peppers don’t make the Dirty Dozen list, but were found to be frequently contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.

The Clean Fifteen

The EWG’s Clean Fifteen is a list of fruits and vegetables that are least likely to hold pesticide residues. This year, it consists of avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and those that were detected were found in very low concentrations.

Key findings:

  • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
  • No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen™ tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen™ vegetables. Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.

KidzShake is an organic product.  We are in the process of getting KidzShake USDA organic-approved.



Curl, C., Beresford, S., Fenske, R., Fitzpatrick, A., Lu, C., Nettleton, J., & Kaufman, J. (2015). Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives, 123, 475–483.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Pesticide Exposure in Children – Policy Statement. (2012). Pediatrics, 130(6), E1757-E1763.

EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. (2015). Retrieved May 27, 2015, from

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