Pesticides used in agriculture can often leave detectable traces of chemicals in, or on, our food known as ‘residues’. The residues detected on a food item will depend on which pesticides have been used and how persistent they are, in other words, how long they take to decompose.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK has analysed and compiled the most recent government data and turned it into a handy list you can take when you go shopping.
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ list is based on how many of the samples tested revealed residues of more than one pesticide. The UK's regulatory system is only set up to assess the safety of one pesticide at a time and so misses what is often called ‘the cocktail effect’.
It is also worth bearing in mind that many of the pesticides used nowadays are ‘systemic’, which means that residues are contained within the entire piece of produce rather than just on the surface.
So peeling and washing fruit and vegetables will often be insufficient to remove all residues. The solution, a fully organic diet, can be difficult and expensive to achieve but the list can help you to work out which product to prioritise.
PAN suggests that shoppers buy organic whenever possible. Shoppers who can’t afford or access a fully organic diet can find out which items to prioritise by checking PAN UK’s Dirty Dozen list of the most affected fruit and vegetables. Some foods such as citrus fruits for example, have very high residues.