This article is responding to a question asked by one of our blog readers:

Organic, when is it worth the price difference?


So when is the price difference worth it? 

Most researchers say, if you can afford it, buy local and organic, because of the lower pesticides and that organic farms use environmentally friendly practices that will sustain the earth and replenishes resources. (CSPI, 2007)


What should one be looking for when purchasing organic foods? 

When shopping for organic foods, always look for the USDA seal or certified organic on any kind of packaged food. For meat and dairy, this seal ensures you’re getting antibiotic- and hormone-free products. When buying meat or produce that isn’t packaged, look for a sign stating that it’s organic.


Many organic foods cost more than conventionally grown foods, but they do contain lower levels of pesticide residues and that it is a health plus.  If you want to reduce pesticides intake, but do not want to buy everything organic, fruits and vegetables are the most cost effective areas to begin to make decisions for purchasing organically grown foods.

First take advantage of local farmers’ markets and locally grown produce whenever possible.

Secondly, be aware that The Environmental Working Group EWG (a Washington –based   non –profit) has identified a list of produce where it makes the most difference.                The “dirty dozen” are fragile fruits and vegetables that often require more pesticides to   fight off bugs.  Whenever possible, try and purchase organic or locally grown of the following twelve produce:  peaches, strawberries, nectarines, apples, spinach, celery,    pears, sweet bell peppers, cherries, potatoes, lettuce, and imported grapes.

Thirdly, the EWG also lists produce with the least contaminates which are: onions, avocados, frozen corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi fruit, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papaya. These fruits and vegetables are hardier produce where pesticides are less absorbed and you can feel comfortable eating these.


What should one do for the winter months in New England?

During the winter months in New England, fruits and vegetables should remain an essential part of our healthy diet.  Local fresh produce may be limited, so select seasonal produce.   Select hardier vegetables like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and the great variety of squashes, and dark hardy greens such as collards, and kale which tend to have fewer pesticides.  You can also select non local seasonal fruit such as bananas, and citrus fruits.  These fruits, we peel away the flesh to reduce ingesting the pesticides.


Purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables is always a good deal.  These products are picked at the farm and frozen within a short time, so they retain their nutrients and have small or no traces of pesticides.


Through out the year, here are a few tips to reduce your pesticide risk:

  • Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This would limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching raw produce
  • Consider cutting your own fruits and vegetables, instead of purchasing them precut, especially if you are going to eat them raw.
  • Remove and discard outmost leaves of lettuce and greens
  • Wait until just before preparation to wash or immerse your produce in clean water. When appropriate, scrub with a brush, this removes nearly all insects and dirt, as well as bacteria and pesticide residues.
  • Special soaps or washes are not necessary, Cold water is perfectly fine.
  • Practice food safety and prevention of cross contamination; do not place raw fruits and vegetables near uncooked meat fish or poultry.

Finally, organically grown foods are more expensive than conventionally grown, however knowing when organic pays off really helps towards making wise decisions. For example, fruits that you peel the skin, removes most of the pesticides which reduces your risk. However, soft –skinned fruits and vegetables that are consistently ranked on the top of the dirty dozen list, you may be are better off purchasing organic.

As the growing season changes, remember to check out the local farmer’s markets which now accept WIC and EBT cards.  Here you can purchase organic produce at reasonable cost and contribute to the bigger picture, the health and safety of our planet.




Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2007 vol. 34 #6

Environmental Nutrition, 2007 vol.30, #6

EWG  Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. 4th ed.