Not too many people would actually turn down organic produce (fruits and vegetables), saying they would rather have the kind produced at factory farms, where they have been hosed down with pesticides. Picture Uncle Joe at Thanksgiving dinner, asking, “What kind of cranberry sauce is this? It tastes funny. Organic? Oh, I don’t think I should eat that. What’s wrong with the regular cranberries?”

No, that’s not the issue. Price is. Usually, organic food costs more than conventional. I say usually because we sometimes see conventional prices rise above organic prices, depending on time of year and where we shop. However, for long-term budgeting, organic produce costs more overall.

Here is a handy chart of the more-than-a-dozen most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, and another showing the “clean” ones that carry the lightest load of chemicals. This chart was updated in 2019 from research found in this excellent article about organic vs. non-organic produce.

The Dirty Dozen Foods: Buy Organic

  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Blueberries (domestic)
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Celery
  • Bell Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Kale and Collard Greens grown in the U.S.
  • Potatoes
  • Green Beans
  • Hot Peppers
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tangerines
  • Cucumbers grown in the U.S. and Mexico

Clean Foods: Non-Organic is OK

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet Peas
  • Asparagus (Best if grown in Mexico; if not, then in the U.S.)
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant (Best if grown in Honduras; if not, then in the U.S.)
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Honeydew
  • Cucumbers grown in Canada
  • Kale grown in Mexico
  • Lettuce grown in the U.S. or Mexico

GMO Foods: Buy Organic

  • Sweet Corn
  • Papaya (Hawaiian)

More Cost Savings:

Local produce may have been treated with fewer chemicals, depending on where you live. If you live in an area of big farms that sell their produce to distant locations, then local produce is not necessarily a solution for you. Even in those locations, you might find small truck farmers with less-toxic produce. Ask those friendly clerks at your local health food store. They may know of some good sources for organic, transitional, unsprayed or at least less toxic food.

Discount grocery stores that specialize in low prices may carry organic produce in season at much lower prices than your local supermarket.

Shop the sales. When you go to the grocery store, look for organic produce on sale. Not part of your meal plans for the week? Change your plans, to take advantage of the sale!

Dry, freeze, preserve. When any particular fruit or vegetable is at the peak of its season and or at its lowest price, buy lots of it, but don’t let it rot in the back of the fridge! You can dry it with a food dehydrator, freeze it (either raw or par-boiled, depending on the food) or you can preserve it in canning jars, with or without the addition of sugar. Some specialty foods you can make in advance are spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, relishes, pickles, ketchup (tomato or specialty varieties like cranberry), chutneys, jams and jellies, sauces of all varieties, and prepared fruit for pastries. This cornucopia of organic food will contribute to delicious meals over the winter. You can also decorate the bottles to give as holiday gifts.

Organic gardening. When deciding what to grow for yourself, you might want to lend more weight to the Dirty Dozen, above. How about an apple, peach or cherry tree? A few berry bushes, a grape arbor, a strawberry planter? A kitchen garden with leafy greens, bell peppers and celery? A potato patch?

Wash produce. Wash your hands, scrub your fingernails, clean the sink and counter.  Discard stems, paper labels, spoiled portions, and the outer leaves from leafy foods. To wash your produce, you can use clean cold water, distilled water, vinegar or salt water, a purchased food-wash, or a liquefied ozone water (made with a device for that purpose). While washing, scrub the food with a vegetable brush.  Even if you are planning to peel the food, wash the outside first, so you don’t transfer microbes or pesticides to the inside by way of your knife or peeler or your hands. Leafy greens, roots, and bumpy vegetables, like broccoli, should then be soaked for 2-5 minutes in the water or liquid.

The Bottom Line: Where to Put your Money.

The most important fruits and vegetables to buy or grow organic are the most toxic, the Dirty Dozen.

More Tips on Washing Produce and the Dirty Dozen: