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By Carol Harrison, RD

Does eating healthy mean that you and your clients should avoid the vegetables and fruits on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list? The short answer is no. Here’s the scoop on why it’s not a scientifically valid list, how pesticides are approved and monitored in Canada, and why you are far better off to focus on filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits for each meal and snack.

As the saying goes, the dose makes the poison.

A list ranking vegetables and fruits with the most pesticides might sound like a helpful resource, but research has shown that the actual amounts of pesticides detected in produce on the “Dirty Dozen” list are so far below the limits set by health authorities that the potential for harm is negligible, or pretty darn close to zero.

Just because we now have the scientific know-how to detect minuscule amounts of substances does not mean, in those very small amounts, they cause us any harm.

Pesticide residue limits have a built-in safety margin.

When setting residue limits for produce, Health Canada takes the dose that scientists refer to as “no observed adverse effects” (which itself is based on the assumption that we eat the fruit or vegetable every day for our entire lives) and multiplies it by 100 to 1,000 as a safety measure.

Good to know: Consider this the next time you read a sensational headline suggesting that produce is doused or contaminated with pesticides: over 95% of Canadian-grown fresh fruits and vegetables met the pesticide limits monitored and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Health Canada has a rigorous review process for pesticides.

Pesticides must be reviewed and approved before they can be used in Canada. Health Canada has more than 300 scientists who review new pesticides and re-evaluate existing ones. The approval process includes a review of 200 mandatory studies to evaluate the health and environmental impacts of new pesticides. It can take 10 years or more for a new pesticide to get approval for use.

Good to know: Farmers constantly monitor crops for pests, and pesticides are one of many tools they might use. Pruning and netting are also options. Consider this: without pesticides, farmers would grow 50% fewer apples. That could mean apple shortages, increased dependence on imported apples and, of course, a spike in prices at the grocery store.

What’s the bottom line?

Vegetables and fruit, even ones on the “Dirty Dozen” list, are safe and nutritious. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Not only will they add colour and variety to your plate, but you’ll reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer, too.

Helpful Resources

1) Check out the Pesticide Residue Calculator

Use this tool to see how much of a vegetable or fruit you could eat in a day without any negative health effects. Here are the results for apples:
Man: 1190
Woman: 850
Teen: 680
Child: 340

2) Visit Half Your Plate for veggie/fruit recipe and tips

Check out their video series:


Carol Harrison is a registered dietitian who loves her daily workouts!

She has a food nutrition communications company in Toronto.

Follow Carol on Twitter and Instagram: @greatmealideas