The Clean and Mean 18 (UK Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen)

It probably isn’t a new term to you, my savvy reader, that there is a ‘blacklist’ for certain fruit and vegetables that is known as the ‘Dirty Dozen‘.

The advice from the EWG is; if you’re going to buy these 12 foods, you want to make sure they’re organic. This is because they are the most common crops to be doused in dodgy pesticides and other chemical nasties.

There is also the ‘Clean Fifteen‘ – the free-for-all range of produce you can save your pennies on and buy regular, non-organic varieties of.

So I almost had this memorised when I would go shopping. Most of it followed logic; things that grow above ground (ie. the leaves you eat) were better buying organic, as they would get the full brunt of the pesticides.

Others with tough skins and edible roots, I would risk buying the supermarket basic varieties of. Come at me chemicals!

Just like most things I read online, the sources of this information were from the grand ol’ US of A. So, I had to internally translate the zucchinis for courgettes and so on. Not a problem.

But at some point, especially when I started trying to buy more local, seasonal produce, I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was a difference in produce from the UK and Europe. Is there a specific UK Dirty Dozen?

After all, we do have stricter rules on GM produce than our cousins from across the pond, so what about pesticides?

A little googling later, I discovered this brilliant article where George Dryden has done all the work for me.

Turns out? There ARE some differences when it comes to choosing produce with the lowest toxins in the UK, but it just isn’t that widely known.

This post from George includes a quote from my daily free coffee suppliers, Waitrose, on the matter of the difference:

The dirty dozen is a list compiled within a USA context. Many of the uses of pesticides which are fully permitted on their crops are not permitted in the EU.”

The source George looked at is PAN – the Pesticide Action Network.

Clean Mean 18

My answer to the UK Dirty Dozen / Clean Fifteen

To be fair, not all the same produce in the EWG’s guidelines are covered by PAN in this research. (I take this to mean that PAN don’t consider these clear cases to avoid or exclusively buy organic.)

Anyway, with the produce not mentioned (kale, mushrooms, broccoli…) I prefer to buy from the farmers market when I can, but if I’m honest I usually end up buying from a chain supermarket (usually not organic).

Plus, there are only 5 main differences between this list and the USA Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen. One that surprised me was corn – from what I’ve learnt, GMO corn crops is a huge issue in the US, but according to PAN it isn’t a crop we need to be concerned about here. Weird. And surely peas are protected by the pods they’re in… double weird.

Annoyingly though, I now have to erase most of the memorising I did for the original DD/CF, and start again. Sigh!

I’m a very visual learner, so I took a sunny afternoon to put together this little graphic to help me remember. Because I’m clearly a little deranged.

On the upside, now my British readers have a handy reminder of what fruit and veg to go organic with! Totally feels worth it now.

Source (opens PAN’s PDF doc on pesticide issues in the food chain, 2013)

Do you pay attention to the guidelines (EWG or PAN) on organic produce?
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  1. says

    This is really useful. I must admit I usually ignore those sorts of things because they generally come from the US where they don’t have very strict laws at all, as there is so much power from all the lobby groups. I love reading the Michael Pollan books but again because they are about the US I tend to think we are safer here. I used to think about the skin- eg if you eat the skin then get it organic if you can, but if you peel things then don’t, but that doesn’t seem to fit any more.

    • Cat says

      That’s what I thought about the skins! Agh it’s so confusing, but generally think I’m glad we’re in the UK for the slightly more strict laws on this stuff.

  2. says

    How interesting. I would have thought the produce was planted/cropped/harvested aka grown the same but it makes sense that it’s not. What an informative post. Glad I met you through SITS.

    • Cat says

      Thank you! I find it so interesting – would love to learn more about how things differ in agriculture around the world.

  3. says

    *sobs* It breaks my heart that apples are on the mean list. I try and buy half my apples organic, only because I get through a lot and it would be expensive to buy ALL organic (every little helps…?).
    Great information though because, like you said, sometimes it’s hard to see how relevant the US list is to us in the UK.

    • Cat says

      I know! Is it terrible that I think the massive, blatantly imported and pumped up are my favourites?! We can only do what we can, so I do take all this with a pinch of salt. Salty chemicals.

  4. Sally Hussain says

    Thanks for this so useful, I was wondering if the UK would be different. Only thing I wonder is that the Pan report is from 2013 do you think it is likely anything has changed since then? Is there an updated Pan report? Also seems strange pineapple and sweet potato are on Ewg clean list and UK mean list , don’t see why? Also potatoes are on Ewg dirty dozen but on UK best veg list don’t really understand these differences at all! guess best to go organic on all these just in case! Thanks again

    • Cat says

      I know it’s so confusing! I think the differences between the reports just reflect that we source our produce from different places in the UK compared to the US, and some of those suppliers have different standards! In general, if I can’t go organic for EVERYTHING (and ideally local) then I prioritise the things that grow above ground eg. spinach, celery etc, and go non-organic on the root veg and stuff like sweet potatoes. I figure less pesticides etc can get at them and we usually peel the skin.


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