Farmers market

State regulators frequently test produce from a variety of sources, including farmer's markets, for dangerous pesticide residues.

Pesticide report: California fruits, vegetables safe to eat

3 percent of organic produce had illegal pesticide residue levels About 3,500 different samples taken across the state Produce tested from grocery stores, farmers markets and food distribution centers

Produce testing under California’s stringent protocols revealed over 96 percent of the fruits and vegetables sampled for pesticide residues had little to none detectable.

A report released by the California Department of Pesticide Regulations (DPR) says the agency sampled about 3,500 different pieces of produce in 2014 and determined that a significant portion of it was safe for human consumption.

“This report further confirms that California’s vigorous pesticide regulatory program creates a reliable marketplace where consumers can have faith in their fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Brian Leahy, DPR director. “The pesticide rules and oversight we have in this state are effective at protecting the produce that we enjoy eating.” 

According to the report, the year-round collections of produce from grocery stores, farmers markets, food distribution centers, and other outlets throughout California include certified “organic” fruits and vegetables. Of the products labeled “organic” – 234 total samples – about 3 percent had pesticide residue levels in violation of state labeling guidelines, according to Charlotte Fadipe, spokesperson for California DPR.

The produce is tested using state of the art equipment for 300 types of pesticides operated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets standards allowing fruits and vegetables to contain trace amounts of pesticide. The highest residue level that is allowed on that commodity is called a “tolerance.” Violations occur if a residue exceeds the tolerance for the specific fruit/vegetable, or if no tolerance has been established.

According to the report:

  • 93.43 percent of all produce samples (California grown and non-California grown) had pesticide residue levels that were legal i.e. at or below EPA tolerances.
  • Of those, 40.74 percent had no detectable residues at all, while 52.69 percent had residues detected within the legal level.
  • 1.07 percent of the samples had pesticide residues in excess of the established tolerance level.
  • An additional 5.5 percent of the samples had illegal traces of pesticides that were not approved for that commodity.

Illegal residues

Produce that most frequently tested positive for illegal pesticide residues in 2014 included ginger from China; cactus pads, cactus pears, limes, papaya, summer squash, tomatillos, chili peppers and tomatoes from Mexico; and spinach and kale from the United States.

If DPR finds produce with illegal residues, it quickly works to remove it from the chain of distribution (to prevent it from reaching consumers) and also attempts to trace it to its source.

The tainted lots are quarantined.

Businesses that violate California pesticide residue laws face loss of their product and fines. In Dec. 2014, DPR imposed a $21,000 fine against a California produce importer with a history of recurring pesticide residue violations, mostly on produce imported from Mexico.

Click here for a video story of inspectors collecting samples and testing for pesticides.

DPR continues to find a small but significant number of cases of illegal residues on fresh produce from Mexico and other countries. To help address this, in 2014 DPR enforcement staff gave presentations about the DPR Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program to about 160 Mexican fruit and vegetable growers at workshops in Mexicali and Ensenada.

The 2014 pesticide residue monitoring data is posted at: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/enforce/residue/rsmonmnu.htm.

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