The Organic 101 Update

June 21, 2011

The Environmental Working Group just released their new shopping guide, read on to find out where you can save on produce

The Environmental Working Group just released their 2011 update on the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen,” and SupermarketGuru wants to keep you shopping smart especially at a time when food prices are through the roof! Read on to find out what items you should choose organic, and which you should skip.

According to the Environmental Working Group, choosing organics is “always the best choice” -- but not everyone agrees, nor can everyone afford the organic prices. There are twelve key produce items, nicknamed the “dirty dozen”, that when available should always be purchased organic: here is the 2011 list in order: Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Spinach, Imported nectarines, Imported grapes, Sweet bell peppers, Potatoes, Domestic blueberries, Lettuce, Kale/collard greens.

Produce that has a thin skin or no protective layer is usually best purchased organic- this is key to keep in mind if you are shopping and you forget the “dirty dozen.” The EWG also points out fifteen items that you don't necessarily have to purchase organic, The “clean 15? list of foods with the least pesticides includes: Onions, Sweet corn, Pineapples, Avocados, Asparagus, Sweet peas, Mangoes, Eggplant, Domestic cantaloupe, Kiwifruit, Cabbage, Watermelon, Sweet potatoes, Grapefruit, Mushrooms

For non produce items, the regulations allow four different labeling options based on the percentage of organic ingredients contained in a product: “100 percent organic” (self explanatory!). “Organic”: contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients by weight, excluding water and salt. “Made with organic”: contains between 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients. Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients list the organic items in the ingredient panel. The green and white USDA seal may be used on products that are “100 percent organic” or “organic,” but is entirely voluntary. The balance of ingredients used must be cleared by the USDA and listed on the National List.

What does it actually mean to be organic?
USDA Organic standards require that the land used to grow organic crops go through a three year “transition period” to make sure the crops are free of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

All organic agriculture prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irradiation, sewage sludge, and no genetically modified organisms can be contained in anything labeled organic - however, keep in mind that there are over 100 pesticides that can be used in organic farming.

As far as food safety is concerned there is no difference between organic and conventionally produced foods – so always remember to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and employ safe handling and storage for meat, poultry, dairy and fish.

And don’t panic – if you are concerned about pesticide residues for yourself or your children and you’re unable to buy organic, you can remove a significant amount of the residues by simple peeling fruits and vegetables and removing the outer leaves (but do be aware you will be losing fiber and some nutrients), and trimming any fat from meat and poultry as the residues tend to be more concentrated in the fat, as well as avoiding fish from contaminated areas.