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5 Ways to Buy Organic Groceries for Less

Apples just became public enemy No. 1 to shoppers looking for pesticide-free foods.


A recent screening from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found pesticide residue in 98% of the popular fruit, the highest rate of all the produce it examined. That was enough to push apples to the top of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” shopping guide of items to buy organic. The free pocket-sized list, released today, aims to help shoppers on a budget figure out which items are best purchased organic. Last year, apples ranked fourth.

“Consumers should shop with an abundance of caution,” says Mark Kastel, the co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group. Although all of the foods screened meet government guidelines for acceptable pesticide levels, he says, studies have pointed to problems stemming from even minute levels of exposure.

Although buying organic may be desirable, it’s not always in the budget. At online grocer FreshDirect.com, regular strawberries — which placed third on the Dirty Dozen — are half the price of organic ones, while a half-gallon of organic milk at Safeway sells for a 27% premium.

But there are ways to make going organic more affordable. Try these five:

1) Prioritize. If you can’t afford to go all-organic, all the time, start with items that may retain relatively high levels of pesticide. By the Environmental Working Group’s estimates, someone buying organic versions of the 12 worst offenders – including apples, celery, strawberries and spinach – could cut her pesticide intake by 92%. Skip organic versions of goods on its Clean 15 list, such as onions, sweet corn, pineapples and avocado, which have low levels after you’ve cleaned and peeled them.

2) Shop seasonally. The premium to buy organic is much smaller on produce in its peak season, says Jill Cataldo, founder of the Super Couponing workshop series. Some New Jersey Shop Rite locations currently have organic blueberries on sale for $1.99 per 4-ounce container — $0.50 less than the price for conventional berries. Deals from farmer’s markets are also at their best.

3) Pick the store label. Most big-name supermarkets have their own lines of organic products as well as the regular store label. It’s still more expensive than buying the regular version of a favorite brand or the store’s own brand, but much cheaper than getting the organic brand name. For example, a half gallon of Safeway’s O Organics fat-free milk is $3.29, $1.10 cheaper than brand-name Horizon. (A half-gallon of regular fat-free milk goes for $2.59.)

4) Buy in bulk. “That’s a great way to buy staples,” Kastel says. ShopOrganic.com sells organic brown basmati for 4 cents per ounce, while Safeway has it for 17 cents. (Of course, the smallest size available in bulk is five pounds, nearly three times the size of the store package.)

5) Clip coupons. Roughly 10% of available manufacturers’ coupons as for organic products, says Teri Gault, the founder of The Grocery Game.  The go-to sources for online coupons have a few deals, but your best bet is to head directly to the manufacturer’s web site. Stonyfield Organic currently has a Facebook coupon for $1.50 off a half-gallon of organic milk, while Amy’s Kitchen has one for $0.75 off a box of veggie burgers. Also look for coupons good for “any” of a brand’s products, which would let you get say, the organic Bertolli pasta sauce instead of the regular, Gault says.


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    • I worked for three years as an etmvroniennal chemist in Louisiana where I actually analyzed pesticides, Amanda.I then moved into specialty gases where I learned a great deal about chemical phase behavior.Knowing what I know now about pesticides and their phase behavior I feel like I am qualified to say this.Pesticides a very non-volatile by design. They are specifically selected because of the fact that they are sticky and viscous. This means that they stick to the foods and plants to protect it from bugs. but, unfortunately, as stated, it sticks to the food and plants which means you end up eating it. Kinda like eating toxic oil blah!MarkMark recently posted..

    • I have started using a software named couponsavingsoftware , and i am happy with the results , it helps me to match deals with my coupons in a flash , easy to use and a time saver , i use it intelligently , i dont cut and clip coupons anymore , instead i use this software to reference to my physical coupons
      eg : Redplum -June 13-Page 2
      Then it very easy for me now and i clip the coupons only when required.
      The software also has a completely customizable grocery list for shopping checklist, i dont use it often but its a plus.
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    • I’ve been shopping at shopOrganic.com for a couple of years. Great prices on bulk (they have lots of sizes, not just 5 lb. bulk) and other hard-to-find foods – great shout out for my favorite store!

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.