2017: Clean vs Dirty Dozen Food (whether to buy Organic)

Free-range chicken farm

By Catherine Haug, March 13, 2017 (Photo, right, from Cornucopia (5)

Cat’s food-shopping tips:

  • Produce: If you can afford Organic, it is highly recommended you choose Certified Organic or Organically-grown. If your budget is limited, see the Clean Dozen and Dirty Dozen food lists, below.
  • Red meats: Pasture/grass raised and finished, locally-raised livestock provide the most healthful meats; see also my posting Why ‘Pasture-Raised’ trumps ‘Organic’.
  • Poultry meats: Your best choice locally raised poultry, provided they have access to the outdoors; and not just a small door to the outdoors, but a door you can use, too. Chickens eat not only seeds but also insects, grubs and worms, and they need the sun for the sunshine vitamin, just like we do.
  • Eggs: Your best choice is eggs from poultry raised in similar way as for ‘poultry meats’ above.
  • Dairy: Buying from a local farmer (who keeps his/her dairy livestock in pasture) is highly recommended. Organic commercial milk is ultra-pasteurized and, in my opinion, ultra-damaged. See my article on Cat’s Kitchen: Raw Milk: A Real, Natural & Perfect Food, which has a discussion about the problems with ultra-pasteurized milk. If drinking raw milk is not for you, choose simply ‘pasteurized’ milk (HTST) from a local dairy, such as Kalispell Kreamery here in the Flathead Valley. See Food Safety & Pasteurization on The EssentiaList for a description of the various pasteurization types.
  • Cheese: This is a dairy food but I give it its own bullet because we have a great source of raw-milk cheeses in Montana: Lifeline brand, from Victor MT. There are also local brands that use simply-pasteurized milk to make their cheeses, such as Flathead Lake Cheese (2) in Polson, and Amaltheia Dairy (3) in Belgrade.
  • Avoid processed foods, even if they say ‘organic’ on the label, because unless they are Certified Organic, they will contain up to 15% non-organic ingredients most of which are GMO. See my posting: Natural vs Organic Labeling for more.

Buying Organic can be expensive, so if your food budget is limited, read on.

EWG Shopping Lists

The following lists are according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 2017 (1)

  • The Dirty Dozen are foods you should always buy Organic (or from local farmers/gardeners who use organic methods) to avoid pesticide/herbicide contaminants.  Additionally, the EWG adds 6 additional foods for which Organic is recommended. Buying Organic for any foods on this list provide paybacks in better health and lower disease risk
  • The Clean Fifteen are foods that you could buy conventional if your budget is pinched, because they typically are not sprayed, or they have thick skins through which the sprays will not penetrate. Additionally, the EWG adds 4 additional foods you can safely buy conventional. Cat’s Caution: If you eat the skins (I put skins of Orange/Grapefruit in my morning smoothie), then you should buy Organic.

Want a printable wallet-size list to use when you go grocery shopping? Green Smoothie Girl has a printable wallet-size lists of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen (4), if that interests you.

Dirty Dozen plus six:

The “The Dirty Dozen”  are produce items that measure the highest in pesticide contamination, according to the Environmental Working Group:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes 
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Bell Peppers
  11. Cherry Tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

The next 6 on the list are food categories you should also purchase organically:

13.Hot Peppers

14. Leafy greens: lettuce, kale, chard, etc. These foods should make up a large portion of your whole-foods diet, so it’s important to get quality, clean greens for your smoothies and salads. Due to increasing demand, you can find washed leafy greens nearly as cheap organic as conventional.

15. Coffee: Coffee is one of the most-sprayed crops globally. It’s better for your health and the environment to choose Organic joe. For Organic, Free-Trade brands of coffee; see Amazon (6); the brand I use is Columbia Joe (7) .

16. Eggs: The natural omega fatty acid balance is so disrupted in conventional eggs that it’s the reverse of what is healthy. It should be 6:1 Omega 3’s to Omega 6’s. But it’s the opposite in conventional eggs, and folks eating the SAD are already far out of balance. Choose organic eggs for a more natural ratio.

17. Meat: If you’re going to eat meat, always choose clean, organic sources. Organic livestock is raised without antibiotics and steroids, and have access to the outdoors. Their feed cannot contain animal by-products, GMO grains, or be grown using non-organic fertilizers. Look for free-range poultry, and grass-fed beef. The best is that raised and finished in local pastures. See Farmhands Interactive Map from Nourish the Flathead (8).

18. Dairy: If you can’t do without dairy products, make sure they’re organic, for the same reasons you want clean meats. The best organic dairy comes from grass-fed animals.

Additionally, if you want to avoid GMO produce, varieties of papaya, summer squash and sweet corn and soon apples and potatoes have been approved for GMO, so be sure to consult with the seller about these if you don’t want to buy Organic varieties.

Clean Fifteen plus four

These are LEAST important to purchase organically because they are least likely to be contaminated with pesticide. Here is where you can save on your food budget while still making healthful choices:

  1. Sweet Corn*
  2. Avocados
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Papaya*
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangos
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew Melon
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Grapefruit

‘* A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash (and soon-to-be apples and potatoes) sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified (GMO)seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid GMOs.

Other foods that are fine to purchase conventionally:

16. Mushrooms

17. Produce with thick skins or rinds, which can be removed: Melons, citrus fruits, bananas, squashes. Note, however, that if you plan to eat the peel of any on this list, your best choice is Organic.

18. Quinoa: The tough outer coating is nearly impermeable to pests, so growers don’t spray it.

19. Maple Syrup: Real maple syrup is forest-harvested from untreated trees.

What about foods not on either list? Read labels, and use good judgment. When in doubt, go organic when your budget allows (and maybe even grow some of your own veggies!).


  1. EWG Dirty Dozen: ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php and Clean Fifteen: ewg.org/foodnews/clean_fifteen_list.php
  2. Flathead Lake Cheese: flatheadlakecheese.com
  3. Amaltheia Dairy: .amaltheiadairy.com
  4. Green Smoothie Girl wallet-size lists of Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen (greensmoothiegirl.com/docs/newsletter/Dirty_Dozen_and_Clean_Fifteen_Wallet_Card.pdf?x66610)
  5. Cornucopia (photo): cornucopia.org/photo-gallery/?album=2&gallery=18
  6. Amazon for Organic & Free-Range coffees: amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dgrocery&field-keywords=organic+free+trade+coffee&rh=n%3A16310101%2Ck%3Aorganic+free+trade+coffee&ajr=0
  7. Organic Joe (Organic & Free Range coffee) amazon.com/COLOMBIA-JO-Colombian-Certified-Collection/dp/B00THG8A8C
  8. Farmhands Map: nourishtheflathead.org/map/

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