2014 Pesticide Residues in Fresh Produce

SUMMARY OF RESULTS

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About California’s Pesticide Regulatory Program

California has the nation’s most comprehensive program to regulate pesticide use. Under the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) Program:

  • A pesticideís safety and efficacy are evaluated before it is allowed to be used.
  • All agricultural pesticide use must be reported.
  • DPR’s Environmental Scientists together with California’s 55 County Agricultural Commissioners (CACs) enforce pesticide use laws and regulations to ensure the proper and safe use of pesticides.
  • To protect human health, DPR’s California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program collects samples of domestic and imported produce and analyzes them for pesticide residues.

California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program

DPR’s California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program is designed to prevent “public exposure to illegal pesticide residues” (California Food and Agricultural Code section 12532) by meeting the following goals:

  1. Monitor pesticide residues in fresh produce throughout the California food supply. DPR staff sample commonly consumed produce, giving special emphasis to fruit and vegetable commodities consumed by infants and children and to commodities that are treated with pesticides listed as carcinogens or reproductive toxicants. Additionally, in accordance with DPR’s commitment to Environmental Justice, DPR food safety staff select certain fruit and vegetable commodities and certain sampling sites in order to reflect differences in consumption patterns among ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
  2. Identify specific fruit and vegetable commodities that have a higher incidence of illegal pesticide residues. DPR will increase sampling of commodities that have a history of higher incidence of illegal pesticide residues, to better understand the extent of the problem.
  3. Generate sample analysis data requested by DPRís Human Health Assessment Branch to help them assess the dietary risk of certain pesticides.
  4. Help keep produce with illegal residues out of the marketplace. DPRís Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program is directed toward enforcement of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) tolerances. A "tolerance" is the highest residue level of a particular pesticide that is legally allowed on a commodity. U.S. EPA establishes tolerances based on crop residue trial data and the potential risks to human health posed by the pesticide. If an illegal pesticide residue is detected on a sample of produce, DPR immediately investigates and removes that produce from sale and the channels of trade.

2014 Pesticide Residue Monitoring Results

In 2014, DPR collected 3,471 samples of more than 150 different fruits and vegetables from businesses in the channels of trade, including wholesale and retail outlets, distribution centers, and farmers markets. DPRís regulatory authority does not cover sampling and testing of processed produce. The California Health and Safety Code assigned that responsibility to the California Department of Public Health. Accordingly, DPR only sampled and tested raw agricultural commodities derived from plants.

Both domestically grown and imported fruit and vegetable commodities were sampled. Of the 3,471 samples collected, approximately two-thirds (2,301 samples) were domestic, one-third (1,155 samples) were imported, and 0.4 percent (15 samples) were of undetermined origin. Samples of domestically grown produce included 1,129 samples of 104 different California grown fruit and vegetable commodities.

All samples were analyzed in California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) analytical laboratories, located in Sacramento and Anaheim, using multi-residue screens that can detect more than 300 pesticides and pesticide breakdown products.

Results for all 2014 Pesticide Residue Monitoring Samples

  • 40.74 percent (1,414 of 3,471 samples) had no detected pesticide residues.
  • 52.69 percent (1,829 of 3,471 samples) had one or more detected pesticide residues and all were less than or equal to established tolerances. As in recent years, the majority of these samples had residues at less than 10 percent of the tolerance level.
  • 1.07 percent (37 of 3,471 samples) had one or more illegal pesticide residues in excess of established tolerances. A sample with an illegal pesticide residue does not necessarily indicate a potential health concern.
  • 5.50 percent (191 of 3,471 samples) had one or more illegal residues of pesticides not approved for use on the commodities analyzed.

Results for the 2014 U.S. Grown Samples

For all samples of U.S grown produce, 97.5 percent were in compliance with U.S. EPA tolerances (2,244 of 2,301 samples). For those labeled California grown, 96.4 percent were in compliance with U.S. EPA tolerances (1,088 of 1,129 samples).

Results for 2014 Organic Produce Samples

In the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the amount of organically grown produce sold in California. Many consumers buy organic produce because they believe it does not contain pesticide residues. Federal and state laws and regulations concerned with organic produce are enforced in California by the CDFA Organic Program. One organic produce regulation they enforce is:

Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 205.671, which states:

“When residue testing detects prohibited substances at levels that are greater than 5 percent of the Environmental Protection Agencyís tolerance for the specific residue detected or unavoidable residual environmental contamination, the agricultural product must not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced”.

There are some pesticides that are approved for use in organic farming. Residues of those pesticides must be less than or equal to the U.S. EPA established tolerance for the pesticide on the commodity tested.

The DPR Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program does not set an annual goal for the number of organic samples to collect. In 2014, DPR collected 234 produce samples labelled organic. The CDFA laboratory, which analyzed those samples, reported results for the DPR organic samples to both DPR and the CDFA Organic Program. These results are summarized in the following graph:

Commodity/Country-of-Origin Combinations with the Lowest Percentage of Illegal Residues

In 2014, there were low percentages of illegal pesticide residues in samples of certain fruit and vegetable commodities produced in certain countries.

The twelve commodity/ country-of-origin combinations (minimum of 30 samples) with the lowest percentages of illegal residues in 2014 were:

Commodity and Origin % of Samples with Illegal Pesticide Residues (2014)
Apple
U.S.
0 % (0 of 136 Samples)
Strawberry
U.S.
0 % (0 of 108 Samples)
Dry Bulb Onion
U.S.
0 % (0 of 70 Samples)
Sweet Corn
U.S.
0 % (0 of 70 Samples)
Oranges
U.S.
0 % (0 of 68 Samples)
Head Lettuce
U.S.
0 % (0 of 64 Samples)
Leaf Lettuce
U.S.
0 % (0 of 63 Samples)
Summer Squash
U.S.
0 % (0 of 63 Samples)
Broccoli
U.S.
0 % (0 of 51 Samples)
Mushrooms
U.S.
0 % (0 of 43 Samples)
Lemon
U.S.
0 % (0 of 42 Samples)
Pear
U.S.
0 % (0 of 38 Samples)

Commodity/Country-of-Origin Combinations with the Highest Percentage of Illegal Residues

In 2014, as in recent years, there were high percentages of illegal pesticide residues in samples of certain fruit and vegetable commodities produced in certain countries. The twelve commodity/ country-of-origin combinations (minimum of 30 samples) with the highest percentages of illegal residues in 2014 were:

Commodity and Origin % of Samples with Illegal Pesticide Residues (2014)
Cactus Pads and Cactus Fruit
Mexico
46.7 % (42 of 90 Samples)
Limes
Mexico
26.5 % (9 of 34 Samples)
Papaya
Mexico
17.1 % (6 of 35 Samples)
Summer Squash
Mexico
16.7 % (10 of 60 Samples)
Ginger
China
16.7 % (9 of 54 Samples)
Tomatillo
Mexico
15.5 % (9 of 58 Samples)
Spinach
U.S.
10.0 % (11 of 110 Samples)
Chili Peppers
Mexico
7.9 % (6 of 76 Samples)
Tomato
Mexico
7.8 % (4 of 51 samples)
Nectarine
U.S.
5.7 % (4 of 70 samples)
Chayote
Mexico
5.0 % (2 of 40 samples)
Kale
U.S.
3.8 % (4 of 104 samples)

Most of the 2014 illegal pesticide residues were at very low levels (a fraction of a part per million [ppm]).

Significance of the Results

The findings of the California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program have been consistent in recent years. In each of the years from 2010 to 2014, more than 93 percent of produce samples collected by DPR had no detected pesticide residues or pesticide residues well below U.S EPA tolerances. Pesticide residues that are found are usually at levels of a fraction of a ppm. In most years, less than 4 percent of all the samples analyzed have illegal pesticide residues.

While the overall goal of DPR’s regulatory program is to ensure that all fresh produce is in compliance with pesticide safety standards, a produce item with an illegal residue level does not necessarily indicate a potential health concern. DPR Environmental Scientists and Toxicologists evaluate each illegal pesticide residue to determine if there are potential health concerns. The results from years of DPR residue monitoring document the overall safety of produce grown and consumed in California.

The 2014 DPR Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Data is available for downloading on DPRís website at www.cdpr.ca.gov. Click on “A-Z Index” and then go to "“Residue Monitoring Program.”

DPR Enforcement of Illegal Pesticide Residues

When illegal pesticide residues are found (those above the U.S. EPA tolerance level or those in which no tolerance is established for the pesticide detected on the commodity analyzed), DPR immediately investigates and removes the produce containing the illegal residues from sale and the channels of trade.

When DPR finds produce with illegal pesticide residues, the owner of the produce has three options: Dispose of the produce on site, transfer the produce to another site for disposal, or, in some cases, recondition (e.g., washing 3 times) the produce to reduce an over-tolerance residue or eliminate an illegal residue when there is no tolerance established. The reconditioning option requires the owner to collect a sample of the produce when reconditioning is complete and have the sample analyzed by a private laboratory for the illegal pesticide residue found in the original DPR sample. If the laboratory results show that the pesticide residue is below the established tolerance or removed entirely when no tolerance is established, the owner will be allowed to sell the produce. If not, disposal of the produce will be required.

In addition, DPR traces the movement of the produce containing illegal residues by contacting distributors, retailers, and wholesalers throughout California, obtaining copies of invoices, customs forms and other paperwork, imposing quarantines and conducting additional sampling as needed.

If during trace-back it is determined that the produce containing an illegal pesticide residue was grown in California, the County Agricultural Commissioner (CAC) in the county where the produce was grown, will investigate to determine the source of contamination. Frequently, DPR scientists assist CAC staff with their investigation. DPR and CACs have authority to levy civil penalties for illegal use of pesticides.

DPR also has the authority to levy civil penalties against anyone who packs, ships or sells produce with illegal pesticide residues. In 2014, DPR established a policy to identify companies that are repeatedly the first business to sell produce with illegal residues in California, meet with those companies to gain compliance, and fine companies if they continue to be the first to sell produce with illegal residues in California.

In December of 2014, DPR imposed a $21,000 civil penalty against a California produce importer with a history of recurring illegal pesticide residue violations, mostly on produce imported from Mexico. All recent DPR fines and settlements for produce with illegal pesticide residue can be found with the following link: “Produce with Illegal Pesticide Residue Fines and Settlements”.

DPRís Enforcement Outreach Activities

In October of 2014, DPR took a proactive step in trying to eliminate illegal pesticide residues in produce imported from Mexico. A DPR staff scientist travelled to Mexicali and Ensenada in the Mexican state of Baja California and gave presentations to growers about the DPR Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program. Besides providing a description of the program, including its scope, its goals, and the methods used for the analysis of samples, the presentations included the following topics:

  1. Resources available on the Internet to look up U.S. EPA established tolerances for pesticide residues on fruit and vegetable commodities.
  2. DPR enforcement actions when illegal pesticide residues are found on fruits and vegetables, whether imported or domestically grown.
  3. Resources available on the Internet, including resources on the DPR website, to verify that the use of a certain pesticide on a particular fruit or vegetable commodity is approved for use in the U.S. and California.
  4. 2013 and 2014 Residue Data.

The goal of this DPR outreach effort was to provide Mexican growers the information they need to comply with U.S. and California Pesticide laws when growing produce for export to the U.S. and California. This and future DPR outreach to Mexican growers should help to significantly reduce illegal pesticide residues in produce imported from Mexico.

DPR is also actively working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CACs to identify and eliminate potential sources of illegal residues. DPR also collaborates with trade organizations and grower groups, encouraging them to educate their constituents about preventing pesticide residues in their commodities.

DPR Has Fully Implemented New Analytical Techniques

In April 2014, DPR fully implemented the new GC/MS technology in the Anaheim laboratory. Therefore, the CDFA laboratories in Sacramento and Anaheim are now using LC/MS and GC/MS for the analysis of all Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program samples. Both laboratories now screen all samples for more than 300 pesticide compounds and pesticide breakdown products.