State Monitoring Confirms Low or No Pesticide Residues in Most Fruits and Vegetables
A newly released Department of Pesticide Regulation report should ease concerns of California consumers unsure about pesticide residues in fresh fruits and vegetables.
The 2019 California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Report shows that 96 percent of fresh-produce samples collected by DPR scientists in 2019 had either no detectable pesticide residues or amounts below safety thresholds (“tolerances”) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“This program is a vitally important tool for helping to ensure the safety of California’s food supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, whether imported from other countries or grown in our state,” said DPR Director Val Dolcini. “It’s useful as a deterrent to bad actors and it’s also a helpful way to educate growers about what is and isn’t acceptable for use in California.”
The findings are based on 3,274 samples of fruits and vegetables gathered throughout the year by DPR at nearly 500 different stores, distribution centers, and outdoor markets statewide. Samples are analyzed at California Department of Food and Agriculture labs, which test for nearly 500 different types of pesticides and pesticide-breakdown products.
In all, 137 samples (4 percent) contained illegal residues, meaning they contained products prohibited from being used on certain crops, or had levels of otherwise allowable pesticides that exceeded EPA tolerances. The highest number of violations involved imported dragon fruit (25), followed by chayote fruit (9), and tomatillos (9).
When illegal residues are detected, DPR traces the suspect crop through its lines of trade – from store shelves to shippers, to importers or growers. Tainted products are quarantined and subject to destruction. In addition to potentially losing their shipments, growers and distributors found in violation can face fines and other penalties
For example, in 2019, DPR imposed $175,435 in civil penalties on a Vernon, Calif., produce distributor, Marquez Produce, Inc., for several violations involving importation and sales of produce with illegal pesticide residues. Read more about the settlement agreement here.
In another case, DPR fined two California strawberry growers whose crops contained illegal traces of the pesticide methomyl, which is not registered for use on strawberries. DPR discovered the berries during sampling at a Fresno grocery store. In addition to the fine, DPR ordered the destruction of four tons of tainted berries that could have otherwise been sold to consumers. The Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner also ordered the growers to cease harvest on 11 acres of berries in the field. More information can be found here.
As part of enforcement activities, DPR staff also conduct compliance interviews with businesses found in violation – typically importers or growers – to discuss ways their business can prevent future sales of illegal produce.
Other findings in the 2019 report:
- The majority of illegal samples (83%) involved detection of pesticide residues with no established tolerance for the sampled crop, meaning any detected level is considered illegal.
- Of 262 organic produce samples tested, only 3 had illegal residues.
- The number of samples of a given commodity may not be large enough to make generalizations about the pesticide residue levels for the entire volume of a commodity in trade.