Produce Shopping Strategy: Limiting Pesticide Exposure & Your Grocery Bill

\”Organic crops are not genetically modified, and they’re not sprayed with conventional agricultural chemicals like Roundup. You may not be able to buy all organic food all the time, but there are some easy guidelines you can follow to reduce the amount of herbicides and pesticides in your food.\”

P. 111, \”From Doctor to Patient\”

Last week, we shared a story about Dewayne Johnson, a groundskeeper who developed terminal cancer from repeatedly using pesticides at work (Read that blog here). Although agricultural workers are at the highest risk, the rest of us are still exposed to pesticides on a daily basis. They lurk on nearly all fruits, vegetables, wheat, and even in the water you drink. In fact, on average, Americans have 29 different pesticides in their body at any given moment (Consumer Reports, 2015). Scary, right? 

Current research shows that eating organic fruits and vegetables can deter exposure to pesticides. However, buying organic is expensive (approximately 10-40% more expensive)! So how do you consume fewer pesticides, without sending your grocery bill through the roof? Our Produce Shopping Strategy answers just that. Part 1 of The Strategy involves selecting non-organic produce based on the country of origin. Once you have added the safest non-organic items to your cart, Part 2 involves prioritizing your organic purchases. So, without further ado, get the most bang (least pesticides) for your buck by following our Produce Shopping Strategy outlined below: 

The Produce Shopping Strategy

Part 1: Location-Based Non-Organic Produce Selection

This part of The Strategy is based off of Consumer Reports scientists’ analysis of 12 years of agricultural data (Consumer Reports, 2015). When you purchase the following fruits and vegetables, look for the country of origin label (COOL). Consumer Reports determined that buying non-organic produce from the following countries is just as safe as buying organic. Step 1 of The Produce Shopping Strategy: If the COOL on the following non-organic items indicates one of the acceptable countries, put it in your cart! 

  • Apples: New Zealand
  • Asparagus: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Avocados: Chile, Mexico, or Peru
  • Bananas: Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico
  • Blueberries: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Uruguay, or the U.S.
  • Broccoli: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Cabbage: Canada, Mexico, or the U.S.
  • Cantaloupe: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico
  • Carrots: NONE
  • Cauliflower: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Celery: Mexico
  • Cherries: The U.S.
  • Cherry Tomatoes: The U.S.
  • Cilantro: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Collard Greens: The U.S.
  • Corn: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Cranberries: NONE
  • Cucumbers: Canada
  • Eggplant: Honduras or the U.S.
  • Grapefruit: The U.S.
  • Grapes: Chile, Mexico, Peru, or the U.S.
  • Green Beans: NONE
  • Green Onions: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Hot Peppers: NONE
  • Kale: Mexico
  • Lettuce: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Mangoes: Guatemala or Mexico
  • Mushrooms: Canada or the U.S.
  • Nectarines: NONE
  • Onions: Peru or the U.S.
  • Oranges: Chile, South Africa, or the U.S.
  • Papayas: Belize, Brazil, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, or the U.S.
  • Peaches: NONE
  • Pears: Argentina or the U.S.
  • Pineapple: Costa Rica, Equador, Mexico, or the U.S.
  • Plums: The U.S.
  • Potatoes: Canada
  • Prunes: The U.S.
  • Raspberries: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Snap Peas: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Spinach: Mexico or the U.S.
  • Strawberries: NONE
  • Summer Squash: Mexico
  • Sweet Bell Peppers: NONE
  • Sweet Potatoes: NONE
  • Tangerines: NONE
  • Tomatoes: Canada
  • Watermelons: Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, or the U.S.
  • Winter Squash: Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico

Part 2: Prioritize Your Organic Purchases 

Once you’ve selected the safest non-organic items based on their country of origin, it’s time to decide which produce is most important to buy organic. For example, eating non-organic green beans is 200x riskier than eating non-organic broccoli, in terms of pesticide exposure (Consumer Reports, 2015). If you have to choose, buy organic green beans, and settle for non-organic broccoli. 

This part of The Produce Shopping Strategy is based off of the Environmental Working Group’s analysis of over 40,000 samples of 47 fruits and vegetables (Environmental Working Group, 2019). In order of highest to lowest risk, strategically decide which items are worth buying organic using this list: 

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears 
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes
  13. Sweet Bell Peppers
  14. Cherry Tomatoes
  15. Lettuce
  16. Cucumbers
  17. Blueberries
  18. Hot Peppers
  19. Plums
  20. Green Beans
  21. Tangerines
  22. Raspberries
  23. Grapefruit
  24. Winter Squashes
  25. Snap Peas
  26. Carrots
  27. Oranges
  28. Summer Squashes
  29. Mangoes
  30. Bananas
  31. Sweet Potatoes
  32. Watermelons
  33. Honeydew Melons
  34. Mushrooms
  35. Broccoli
  36. Cantaloupes
  37. Cauliflower
  38. Cabbages
  39. Kiwis
  40. Asparagus
  41. Eggplants
  42. Papayas
  43. Onions
  44. Sweet Peas
  45. Pineapples
  46. Sweet Corn
  47. Avocados

We hope that you’ll use our Produce Shopping Strategy to limit your and your family’s exposure to pesticides via produce. If you’re interested in learning more about the effect of pesticides on health (especially cancer), as well as many other health and wellness topics, check out Dr. Nagula’s new book, “From Doctor to Patient” here:


Consumer Reports. (2015, March 19). Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved February 12, 2020, from

Environmental Working Group. (2019). EWG\’s 2019 Shopper\’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from

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