The Clean Fifteen: Navigating Low-Pesticide Foods for a Healthier Plate

Discover the world of low-pesticide foods with our comprehensive guide to the "Clean Fifteen." We delve into the realm of fruits and vegetables that carry the least pesticide residue, offering insights into making healthier, more sustainable choices. This post combines evidence-based research and practical tips to empower your journey towards a chemical-free lifestyle.


Sarah Prouty

4/15/20245 min read

In the quest for a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, understanding the foods that contain the least pesticides is a cornerstone. The "Clean Fifteen" is a term coined by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to identify fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residues when consumed. This guide aims to explore these foods in depth, shedding light on how you can incorporate them into your diet to minimize exposure to harmful chemicals.

Why Pesticide-Free Matters

Pesticides, while used to protect crops from pests and diseases, can have significant health and environmental repercussions. Chronic exposure has been linked to a host of health issues, including hormonal imbalances, neurological problems, and even certain cancers. Moreover, pesticide runoff can devastate aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity. Opting for foods with lower pesticide levels is a step toward safeguarding both our health and the planet.

Pesticides and Herbicides in Canadian Produce

While our journey into the world of low-pesticide foods provides a roadmap for healthier eating, it's equally crucial to understand the broader landscape of chemical use in agriculture, especially in Canada. This section aims to shed light on common pesticides and herbicides used in Canadian farming practices and offers guidance on discerning their presence in your food.

Common Pesticides and Herbicides in Canada

Canada, like many countries, employs a variety of chemical agents to manage pests and weeds in agricultural production. Among these, glyphosate stands out as the most widely used herbicide, credited for its effectiveness against a broad spectrum of weeds. However, its use has sparked debates concerning health and environmental impacts. Neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides, are also prevalent due to their targeted action on pests, though they've raised concerns for their potential role in declining bee populations. There has also recently been concerns raised about chlormequat chloride and it's potential side effects on mammals.

Fungicides such as chlorothalonil and mancozeb are applied to combat fungal diseases in crops but pose risks to human health and aquatic life. Understanding these chemicals' roles and risks can empower consumers to make informed decisions about their food sources.

Detecting Pesticide Exposure in Your Food

The question then arises: how can you tell if your food has been exposed to these chemicals? Here are several strategies to navigate this challenge:

1. Look for Certification Labels: Organic certification is a reliable indicator that produce has been grown without synthetic pesticides or herbicides. In Canada, look for the Canada Organic logo or other certified organic labels.

2. Consult the Dirty Dozen List: While the Clean Fifteen highlights low-pesticide foods, the Dirty Dozen list identifies those with the highest pesticide residues. Referencing this list can help you prioritize which foods to buy organic.

3. Use Pesticide Residue Test Kits: For those seeking more direct evidence, home pesticide residue test kits offer a way to test your food. While not 100% accurate, they can provide an additional layer of assurance.

4. Access Government Resources: Health Canada provides databases and resources that track pesticide approval and residue levels in foods. Their website can be a valuable tool for those looking to delve deeper into the specifics of pesticide use and regulation in Canada.

5. Support Local and Small-Scale Farmers: Engaging with local farmers allows you to inquire directly about their farming practices. Many small-scale farmers use fewer pesticides or employ integrated pest management (IPM) techniques, even if they're not officially certified organic.

Armed with knowledge about the pesticides and herbicides used in Canadian agriculture and strategies to identify their presence in our food, we can make more empowered choices. While it may not always be possible to avoid all exposure, understanding the landscape of chemical use in agriculture and taking proactive steps can significantly reduce our chemical footprint.

The Clean Fifteen: A Closer Look

The Clean Fifteen list is updated annually, reflecting the latest data on pesticide residues in produce sold in supermarkets. While it's important to remember that these findings are based on samples that have been peeled and washed, they still offer a valuable snapshot of the relative safety of these foods. The Clean Fifteen are the 15 fruits and vegetables that contain the least amount of pesticide residues, according to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) annual analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

The 2024 Clean Fifteen are:

1. Avocados

Avocados lead the Clean Fifteen due to their thick skin, which acts as a natural barrier against pesticide absorption. It's believed that this protective layer helps limit the amount of pesticides that reach the edible flesh, making them one of the safest fruits to consume without opting for organic.

2. Sweet corn

Sweet corn often has minimal pesticide residues, likely due to its husk covering, which provides protection. This makes sweet corn a relatively safe choice for consumers looking to reduce pesticide intake.

3. Pineapple

The tough, spiky skin of pineapples effectively shields the fruit from significant pesticide penetration. This natural defense mechanism ensures that the sweet, juicy interior remains largely unaffected by external chemical applications.

4. Onions

Onions have consistently shown low levels of pesticide residue in testing. Their naturally occurring compounds may deter pests, reducing the need for chemical pesticides during cultivation.

5. Papaya

Like other fruits with protective coverings, papayas have a thick skin that minimizes pesticide residue in the edible part. Moreover, certain varieties are genetically modified to resist pests, further reducing the necessity for pesticides.

6. Sweet peas (frozen)

Sweet peas, especially when frozen, demonstrate low pesticide levels. The freezing process might play a role in preserving their purity, along with their natural resistance to pests.

7. Asparagus

Asparagus makes the list due to its seasonal growth patterns and the agricultural practices involved in its cultivation, which may involve less reliance on pesticides.

8. Honeydew melon

The thick rind of honeydew melons protects the inner fruit from pesticide residues. Their lower position in the list suggests slightly higher residues than those found in the top items but still significantly less than many other fruits and vegetables.

9. Kiwi

Kiwi's furry skin offers a barrier against pesticides. Additionally, kiwis are often less targeted by high-threat pests, potentially reducing the need for pesticide use.

10. Cabbage

Cabbage's dense layers may limit pesticide penetration. Also, it's less susceptible to severe pest infestations, possibly leading to lower pesticide application rates.

11. Watermelon

The thick rind of watermelons serves as a protective barrier against pesticides, ensuring the fruit inside remains cleaner.

12. Mushrooms

Mushrooms' inclusion suggests low pesticide usage in their cultivation. Their unique growing conditions, often controlled and without soil, naturally reduce the need for chemical treatments.

13. Mangoes

The thick skin of mangoes helps keep the inner fruit relatively free of pesticides. They're also less prone to pest attacks, which can diminish the necessity for heavy pesticide use.

14. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes have a dense skin and flesh, which might help reduce pesticide absorption. Their cultivation methods might also contribute to their cleaner status.

15. Carrots

Despite being a root vegetable with direct soil contact, carrots show surprisingly low levels of pesticide residue. This might be attributed to growing practices and natural soil barriers that limit pesticide uptake.

Almost 65% of the Clean Fifteen samples had no detectable pesticide residues, and over 90% had two or fewer pesticides detected. This is in contrast to the Dirty Dozen, where 95% of samples contained pesticide residues. The Clean Fifteen are generally considered safe to consume in their non-organic form.

How to Incorporate the Clean Fifteen into Your Diet

Incorporating these low-pesticide foods into your diet is straightforward and beneficial. Here are some tips:

- Variety is Key: Rotate through the Clean Fifteen to enjoy a range of nutrients and flavors.

- Go Organic When Possible: For items outside the Clean Fifteen, consider buying organic to reduce pesticide exposure further.

- Wash and Peel: While the Clean Fifteen are low in pesticides, washing and peeling can further reduce residues.


Opting for foods from the Clean Fifteen list is a practical step toward a healthier, more sustainable diet. It's a move that supports not only personal health but also the well-being of our planet. By making informed choices about the produce we consume, we can reduce our chemical footprint and foster a more sustainable future.

As we navigate our food choices, let's remember that small changes can have a big impact. Choosing low-pesticide foods is a testament to the power of informed, mindful consumption. Together, we can make a difference—one healthy, sustainable choice at a time.


Environmental Working Group