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Dirty Dozen Update: Strawberries Replace Apples as the Most Pesticide-Contaminated Produce

As strawberry season begins and so does the endless onslaught of recipes to use them, the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has revealed a less-than-sweet side to this popular fruit. The EWG's Dirty Dozen list, which is an annual list composed of the top pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, has named strawberries as the number one produce for pesticides.

Photo: Oxmoor House

This ranking of number one, which knocks apples out of the top spot that they've held for five years, is based on a battery of tests done by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in both 2009 and 2014.

Testing by the government agency revealed several scary facts:

- On average, samples had 5.75 pesticides present - 98% of all samples tested had residue from at least one pesticide - 40% of samples had 10 or more pesticides present

Some scientists dispute EWG’s safety conclusions, and much of the research that links pesticides to health issues has focused on farm workers who are exposed to pesticides in higher doses than consumers. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the pesticides used on food, considers fruit grown conventionally to be safe for human consumption.

But if you’re concerned about pesticides, EWG’s list is a good place to start. Read on to find out the “dirtiest” fruits and veggies out there.

So what can consumers do to avoid harsh chemicals while still enjoying these sweet berries? You have several options:

- Choose organic. The price tag will be steeper, but for some it's worth the extra for peace of mind.

- Grow your own strawberries. Whether you have a yard or just a sunny balcony, you can make your own little garden full of berries.

- Get to know local farmers. Whether it's through a farmers' market or CSA, talk to farmers who provide strawberries locally and see exactly what their pesticide practices are. The amount (and what kind) of pesticides used greatly varies per farm, so some might have practices you're comfortable with.

Once you find strawberries you're comfortable eating, be sure to use those in some of our favorite spring time recipes.