How to Know if Your Produce is Fresh—and What to Buy Organic Each year, the Environmental Working Group releases their annual “Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen” list—a huge tip off for those looking to buy the most quality, pesticide-free produce available. Eating organically ensures you’re ingesting the smallest amount of pesticide possible, but for many, pricing options make an all-organic diet difficult—that’s where the mix and match method comes in!

But first, let’s take a look at the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen!

The Clean 15

This list is full of fruits and veggies that are OK to buy non-organically, because they contain little to no pesticides. Many of these foods have a rind, tough skin or some sort of barrier that blocks out pesticide absorption. If any still exist, a good washing will help get rid of most left-over pesticides.

The Dirty Dozen

The EWG thinks the soft skin of the tasty fruits and veggies on this list allows them to absorb more pesticides than other produce. It’s recommended that you always buy organic when it comes to the Dirty Dozen. But if you’re springing the extra cash for those organic fruits and veggies, you’ll want to make sure they’re as fresh and tasty as possible.

Here are some tricks and tips for picking the best organic produce on the notorious Dirty Dozen list.

Strawberries: A good strawberry is usually bright red, yes, but just because it’s bright red doesn’t mean it’s a good strawberry. Don’t let color give you the slip—the true test is smell! Does it SMELL sweet? Then it probably is. And if you think it smells just a little bit off? No go.

Spinach: Spinach is one of the most telling on our list. The most powerful hint for this leafy green is noting what it shouldn’t look like: wilted leaves, yellowing or browning along the edges or smelling sharp or musky. The greener and crispier, the better—and the longer the shelf life it will have.

Nectarines & Peaches: Blushing red? Doesn’t matter. Pay close attention to the background color of the fruit and around the stem—is it a gold/cream hue with no green or yellowy tinge? Then it’s probably a safe bet. Note the texture and density; the juicier the inside, the heavier the fruit is, and the skin should always be soft but not squishy.

Apples: How do you pick the biggest, juiciest, sweetest apple? Gently squeeze the apple to test; if it’s really hard, it’s probably dry as a bone. If it’s mushy and soft, you’re looking at a short shelf life and internal damage. Find the middle ground. Of course, always make sure there’s no bruising, indents or spots, and if your apple smells a little like vinegar, just say no.

How to Know if Your Produce is Fresh—and What to Buy Organic

Pears: As a fruit that doesn’t ripen exclusively on the vine, pears can be tricky. You can’t tell just by looking, and your pear may need a few more days to ripen even after you buy it. A great cheat? Push just slightly on the pear flesh just below where the stem and fruit meet. If it’s slightly yielding, you’ve probably got a delicious pear on your hands.

Cherries & Grapes: Be careful; color can be deceiving. There’s such variety in both fruits’ sizes, shapes and textures that there’s really only one way to check... Get to grazing! We know, we know—it’s frowned upon at most grocery stores and farmer’s markets, but this is the best way to test for the sweetest, ripest spoils.

Celery: One of the more straight-forward produce items, a good stalk of celery is pretty simple to detect. Make sure the stalks are firm, packed tightly and that there are no wilting leaves. Stay away from spreading or soft and bendable stalks; those with a majority whitish hue are also generally a no-go.

Tomatoes: When you hold a tomato in your hand, it should seem a little heavy for its size, with a soft—not squishy!—texture. The harder the tomato, the less ripe it is. A fairly deep, uniform color and a shiny surface will also indicate freshness. And of course, any blemishes predict a deep-forming bruise that’ll appear sooner rather than later.

Sweet Bell Peppers: It’s a popular claim that bell peppers can be male or female, depending on their number of bottom lobes, and that their gender can help indicate taste. It’s a pretty cool thought, but it’s never been scientifically proven. In the meantime, keep an eye out for a pepper that’s firm, evenly colored and glossy. Hot tip: Peppers with straighter sides will be easier to peel or cut.

Potatoes: The most misleading vegetable around! This veggie is already lumpy and awkward, so for some people, it’s pretty hard to discern quality. However, intense discoloration, growths through the skin and a soft, mushy texture are indicators that a potato’s gone sour.