This Dirty Truth About Fruit Will Surprise You!

April, 2019

Almost everyone knows eating fruit is a healthy practice. 

But if you shop willy nilly, clueless about hidden layers on your prized produce, healthy can unknowingly turn into risky (especially if plant food is your go-to).

In this post, you’ll get up-close with the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 report. See what’s on your fruit, potential negative impacts, the cleanest and dirtiest fruit & veggies to date, and how to minimize the effects of consuming dangerous pesticide and chemical substances.

There I was, a newly minted bride standing in the kitchen with a CUTCO knife in one hand, and a large, washed, shiny apple in the other. 

Intrigued by the razor-sharp blade, I began to scrape the surface of the apple.

A pile of gunky, dirt-like, sticky stuff sloughed off onto my counter.


Yes. And it included one of the ingredients from my wedding day nail manicure: shellac. 

I’m guessing you’ve eaten your share of shellac, too.

On the macintosh apple in your elementary school lunch…

On the sliced pears you devoured at a breakfast party (whose host sadly didn’t care to wash them)…

On the oily-like skin from the barley rinsed salad bar cucumbers…

What’s fruit wax and what’s it good for?

Fruit wax is a blend of synthetic and sometimes natural material used to cover fruit and vegetables. If you’ve purchased

produce from a grocery store, chances are, you’ve fallen into its shiny arms. It sounds satisfactory when you look at what it does:

  • seals in moisture
  • protects it from browning
  • prolongs shelf life
  • gives it a shiny coat

Seems to be doing fruit a harmless favor. But for you? Maybe not. Let’s take a look at what it contains. 

#1 Fruit wax contains questionable ingredients

Conventional fruit wax contains not-so-yummy elements, and serves as a trapping agent for others:

Petroleum: This liquid mixture is used to produce fuels including gasoline, kerosene, and diesel oil. Synthetically made waxes sometimes use petroleum as an emulsifier. Petroleum is not for consumption and is cited as a possible link to cancer.  

Shellac Resin. This coating is derived from the secretion of the female lac bug. It’s dissolved in ethanol to make liquid shellac. It’s the same coating found in some nail polishes (like the one I wore for my wedding), food glazes, aluminum foil coating, printing inks, paints, wood finishes, and can cause allergic reactions.

Ethanol (Alcohol). Used for consistency. While regarded as generally safe for consumption in this form by the FDA, even limited quantities can still cause detrimental effects on the nervous system.

Milk Casein. A protein linked to milk allergy. Sometimes used as a film former.

While some fruit (like apples) naturally form their own wax, it’s way different from the chemically laced fruit wax found on grocery store produce. Unlike the conventional fruit wax, natural fruit wax can deter certain types of cancer cells and aid the synthesis of anti-tumor agent compounds. But if your apple looks like the quintessential fairy tale shinny Red Delicious, you’re more than likely not eating the natural stuff.

Applying fruit wax to oranges in the production process.

#2 Fruit wax traps harmful pesticides

In addition to consuming petroleum, shellac resin, ethanol, and milk casein, biting into tasty fruit may bring another challenge: avoiding pesticides sprayed onto the fruit.

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), the makers of the famous Dirty Dozen list, wrote their guide based on the results of more than 40,900 samples of produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. It’s important to note that before any testing, all produce was washed just as one might do at home, and peeled. 

Here are some of the major takeaways, sourced from the 2019 report:

  • More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
  • Kale and spinach samples had, on average, 10 to 80 percent more pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.
  • Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • More than 70 percent of fruit and vegetable samples on the Clean Fifteen list had no pesticide residues.
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 6 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.
  • As in the past, this year EWG has expanded the Dirty Dozen list to highlight hot peppers, which do not meet their traditional ranking criteria but were found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.
  • A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.

So what were the rankings?

The Dirty Dozen lists the most filthy of the bunch, ranking strawberries, spinach, kale (newcomer to this list), nectarines and apples as the 5 dirtiest. For the full 12, check out the infographic below.

The Clean 15 on the other hand, lists the least contaminated of the bunch. It ranks avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, frozen sweet peas and onions as the 5 safest. For the full 15, check out the infographic below. 

Harmful effects of pesticide and chemical exposure

Pesticides and chemicals are hazardous, linking to carcinogenic, reproductive, developmental, hormonal, and neurological problems.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, cited research linking pesticide exposure in early life to “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”

The conversation doesn’t stop there. A CNN report also cited research linking pesticide exposure to childhood cancer and neurological consequences, such as lower IQ and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Research by the University of Washington says that “studies have found that chronic, lower dose exposure is associated with respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriage, birth defects, cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease”.

I became a bit uneasy after learning about what was on and in my food. I eat fruits and veggies daily. Thankfully, there are ways to still enjoy the benefits of nature’s yummy treats safely.

Article continues below


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How to limit your exposure to harmful pesticides, and eat safer fruit and vegetables


#1 Wash thoroughly before eating

Always thoroughly wash your fruit before eating conventional or organic. If your fruit is not organic, you may even want to peel. Store-bought or homemade veggie wash? It’s up to you. You can easily make your own from distilled white vinegar. Two ways to make it, are:


1. Fill your freshly cleaned sink with water and add a cup of distilled vinegar

2. Add your fruit and veggies to soak for up to an hour

3. Gently scrub and rinse

4. Dry well before returning to fridge to prevent decay



1. Fill a spray bottle with 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar

2. Spray onto your fruit and veggies

3. Let sit for 15 minutes to an hour

 You may also use lemon and grapefruit seed extract as cleaners.


#2 Go Organic 

Not everyone finds it easy to do a 100% switch to organic. As much as you can however, eat organic fruits and vegetables! The University of Washington states that studies show eating an organic diet can reduce children’s exposure to pesticides.

Remember: the Dirty Dozen foods contain the highest amounts of pesticide residue, so choose organic from these.

The truth is, sometimes even organic fruit and vegetables are waxed. Even so, you still bypass a host of pesticides and chemicals.

Is there a difference between conventional wax and organic? Yes. Conventional wax uses synthetic ingredients. Organic uses natural ingredients. Since shellac is derived from a beetle, it’s not considered synthetic. You may find it on your organic fruit and veggies–so remember to wash!

Want to ensure you select organic produce? Check the price-look-up (or PLU) code on the produce sticker to identify the product type:

Organic produce: 5 digits long and begins with the number 9

Conventional produce: 4 digits long and starts with the number 4

Genetically modified produce (GMO):  5 digits long and starts with the number 8


#3 Grow your own or eat locally grown 

Homegrown food tastes better and is rewarding. If you’re new to gardening, foods like greens and tubers are easy-to-grow options. If you can’t garden, consider buying locally grown produce which limits pesticide and preservative exposure. Many locally grown food options are organic. 

Recap +

Fruits are an excellent source of essential nutrients that heal the body. Yet, even “healthy” items can be tainted, ushering in uninvited contaminants that can hurt you. Knowledge is power. Know what’s in and on your food. And, proactively protect yourself from contaminants by carefully washing and/or peeling your produce using the tips shared above.

Your food is either medicine or poison. Choose wisely.

This article covered both the dirtiest 12 and the cleanest 15, but there are many ranked in between. Check out the full list to learn more.

And of course, find the updated 2020 report next March, right here at Choosing My Health.


In case you’re thinking, “there’s too much to know, I can’t stay on top of it. Why bother?”

I’ll tell you why.

You’re worth it! You have a purpose, and your health should empower you to live it out–not stand in your way.

Your tenacity has led you this far. And God will provide needed tools like this one, to guide your way. 

Stick with it.

The journey is not in vain, and you’re closer to your goal.

We’re in this together.

What tips have you used to help you safely consume fruits and vegetables?

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Hey friend, I'm Mel!

I'm a certified holistic nutritionist, certified health coach, plant-based food instructor, and a certified personal trainer. My passion is helping people like you transition to a plant-based diet, with easy step-by-step strategies that work. I'm committed to empowering you to heal through a plant-based lifestyle so you can freely live out your God-given purpose and thrive. Let's start today!



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