Four lesser known foods high in pesticides: The answer may surprise you


Since 2004, EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ has helped Americans choose the fruits and vegetables that are lowest in pesticides. EWG’s guide is based on data from the Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program and focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, a major source of pesticide residues in our diets. EWG researchers also monitor the scientific literature on pesticides and commission laboratory tests of foods and pesticides not included in the USDA program.

In addition to the fresh produce on EWG’s Dirty Dozen™, organic options may be best for these four foods, both in their unprocessed state and in products made with them:

1. Oats

Despite testing foods for more than 500 pesticides, the USDA does not include glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide in the U.S. Research by EWG and other advocacy groups has highlighted the pervasive contamination of our food supply with glyphosate, a chemical associated with an elevated risk of cancer. EWG’s own tests detected the toxic pesticide in more than 95 percent of the samples of oat-based products, including children’s cereals.

2. Beans and legumes

Like oats, beans and legumes are frequently sprayed with glyphosate right before harvest. Glyphosate has been reported in pinto beans and in chickpea products such as hummus. Tests by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency detected glyphosate in nearly half of bean, pea and lentil products tested in 2015 and 2016.

3. Herbs

In addition to fruits and vegetables, some herbs used in cooking, such as cilantro, can contain surprisingly high pesticide levels. For example, based on USDA testing of samples collected in 2019, the pesticide profile of cilantro is similar to that of spinach and kale, both of which are on the Dirty Dozen list.

As with kale, the most frequently detected pesticide on cilantro is DCPA, often sold under the brand name Dacthal, which is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and not approved for use in the European Union. The bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid was the most commonly detected pesticide on basil. Other concerning pesticides detected on herbs include chlorpyrifos and pyrethroid insecticides.

4. Rice and wheat

A 2017 study in France found that children who consumed greater amounts of pasta, rice, semolina, breakfast cereals and whole grain bread had higher levels of metabolites of pyrethroid pesticides in their urine, compared to those who consumed less of these foods.

In recent years, USDA collected and tested 739 conventional wheat flour and 692 conventional rice samples and found 19 and 50 different pesticides on these commodities, respectively, including the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos and the pyrethroid insecticide deltamethrin. Rice samples also contained tricyclazole and propiconazole, two fungicides not approved in the EU. Washing and cooking rice can reduce some pesticide residues.

Glyphosate is also present in wheat products, as tests by EWG and others have shown.

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