Blueberries and Bell Peppers: Six Fruits and Vegetables with the Greatest Pesticide Risk | Insecticides

  • 1. blueberry

    Why they are a problem: One in five samples of traditional household cranberries contain traces of phosmet, an insecticide that the Environmental Protection Agency considers particularly dangerous to children. It's organophosphates (OP), a class of chemicals responsible for much of the risk in many of the high-risk foods in our analysis.

    Key takeaways: Traditional frozen blueberries also pose a very high risk. Several years of USDA data indicate that phosmet contamination may be on the rise, as farmers use it as an alternative to other, more harmful pesticides.

    Better choice: Consumer Reports doesn't have data on raspberries or blackberries, but organic raspberries were good and fresh, local strawberries were good.

  • 2. Pepper

    Why they are a problem: Nearly half of local conventional samples of these vegetables tested positive for oxamyl or its degradation product, oxamyl oxime.

    Key takeaways: Oxamyl is a carbamate, another class of chemicals that, along with OPs, accounted for most of the risk among high-risk or very-risk foods in the Consumer Reports analysis.

    Better choice: Choosing organic foods is probably the best option here, or consuming these foods in moderation. Note that hot peppers in our reviews also pose a significant risk.

  • 3. potato

    Why they are a problem: Almost all of the local conventional samples contained traces of chlorpropham, a carbamate insecticide. Organic potatoes were of moderate risk, due to contamination with the same pesticide, possibly at processing plants.

    Key takeaways: Although not the most dangerous of pesticides, chlorpropham was found in almost all samples. This is probably because it is usually sprinkled on potatoes just before they are packed to prevent them from sprouting. Organic potatoes may be unintentionally contaminated when they are processed in the same facility as conventional potatoes.

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    Better choice: sweet potato. They pose low risks, and are a nutritional powerhouse to boot.

  • 4. green beans

    Why they are a problem: Only about 4% of local conventional samples contained residues of OP acetate or a related chemical, methamidophos, but risk levels were often very high. The use of acetate has been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in green beans since 2011.

    Key takeaways: Acetate levels were particularly high in imported green beans, mostly from Mexico. Even imported organic green beans were highly dangerous, and they are the only organic food to receive this classification. Its detection in samples indicates illegal use and inadequate import control.

    Better choice: Pick peas. They posed a lower risk, and had the same crunch and texture. Locally grown organic green beans are also a good choice.

  • 5. Cabbage and mustard

    Why they are a problem: Traditional local versions of these greens sometimes contain a mixture of pesticides: pyraclostrobin, a fungicide; cyfluthrin, a pyrethroid insecticide (linked to cardiovascular disease-related deaths); and chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic OP, in a relatively small number of samples, especially mustard greens.

    Key takeaways: The Environmental Protection Agency has banned indoor use of chlorpyrifos since 2000, but it is still used on some crops.

    Better choice: Organic kale and mustard. Broccoli also poses a very low risk and has similar nutritional benefits. Fresh spinach had a moderate risk, making it a better choice as well. Lettuce was low risk.

  • 6. Watermelon

    Why they are a problem: Only about 3% of local conventional samples tested positive for oxamyl, the same pesticide found in bell peppers, but again, the levels are much higher than what Consumer Reports experts consider safe.

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    Key takeaways: USDA testers wash all produce before testing, and measure pesticide levels on the edible part of the fruit or vegetable. So, in this case, pesticides are not limited to watermelon rind only.

    Better choice: Organic watermelon. Cantaloupe is also a good choice, as it poses a very low risk.

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