The Scoop on Food

Bummer! Strawberries Now Top the "Dirty Dozen" List

Strawberries are a delicious, nutritious treat, but now that they have moved up on the "Dirty Dozen" list, what should you do?

handful of strawberries Rock and Wasp/Shutterstock
Kids and adults alike love strawberries. In fact, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimates that we consume eight pounds of them per person each year. Sweet and juicy, strawberries taste great, and they're a nutritious food choice too: They're low in calories, but boast plenty of vitamin C, potassium, fiber and antioxidants. All of these nutrients are important for growing bodies.

However, our love for these nutritious berries may come at a cost. To produce them in the levels necessary to keep up with demand, more and more chemicals and pesticides are being used. And these chemicals can't be removed with a simple wash or rinse. The EWG, through review of the USDA's Pesticide Data Program, acknowledged that the level of pesticide residue in strawberries is concerning and updated their 2016 "Dirty Dozen" list to bring awareness to consumers. This change moved strawberries into the #1 position, a place previously held by apples, on their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

Concerning Information:

  • While some pesticides and chemicals used on strawberries may be harmless, some pose serious health consequences. They have been linked to diseases such as cancer and may disrupt reproductive health as well as contribute to developmental problems.
  • Tests performed by the USDA in 2009 and 2014 reveal strawberries contain more pesticides than all other produce, more than three times as many.
  • The 2014 USDA Pesticide Data Program found that 98 percent of the strawberry samples tested had at least one type of pesticide residue. They found that 40 percent of the strawberries tested positive for 10 different kinds of pesticide residues. And one strawberry even showed residue from 17 different types of pesticides.

Things to Consider:

  • If you're concerned about the chemicals used in strawberries, you're safest bet is to buy organic. Organic strawberries face stringent growing regulations and therefore use fewer fertilizers and pesticides. Consider the switch an opportunity to educate your children, too. Let them know why you're choosing organic and teach them how to identify those products at the store.
  • RELATED: What to Buy Organic
  • Shop your local farmer's markets and ask questions. Farmers will know exactly what chemicals were used to grow their strawberries. Tell them your concerns and ask them what they're using on their strawberry crop. Have your children come with you to the market and introduce them to the farmers. This might start an amazing relationship that's beneficial to both the child and the farmer. Your children will learn the value of farming, while the farmers will see directly the positive impact they have on their youngest consumers.
  • Buy organic strawberries when they're locally in-season. These berries usually taste better, but they will also be less expensive. When they're on sale, buy extra to freeze.
  • Start your own strawberry patch. Strawberries do well in gardens and containers, so why not try your hand at growing your own? Kids will love to help you grow them and eat them!

Virtually all experts agree that eating more fruits and vegetables--organic or conventional--will benefit both kids and grown-ups. So while this news may inspire you to splurge for organic strawberries if your budget allows, it shouldn't stop you from buying this super-healthy fruit.

Want more information about which foods have the most and least pesticide residue? Check out the EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.

Sara Haas is a food and nutrition expert with formal training in the culinary arts. She works as a freelance writer, recipe developer, media authority, and consultant dietitian/chef. Follow her on her blog, on Twitter, or Instagram.