2016 Pesticide Residues in Fresh Produce

SUMMARY OF RESULTS

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About California's Pesticide Regulatory 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). The 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 pesticide legally allowed on a specific commodity. U.S. EPA sets tolerances based on crop residue trial data and the potential risks to human health posed by the pesticide. DPR only samples and tests raw, unprocessed agricultural commodities derived from plants. DPR’s regulatory authority does not cover sampling and testing of processed produce.

DPR scientists collect samples from all channels of trade including distribution centers, above, as well as farmers markets, retail stores and roadside stands. DPR scientists collect samples from all channels of trade including distribution centers, above, as well as farmers markets, retail stores and roadside stands.

Figure 1. DPR scientists collect samples from all channels of trade including distribution centers, above, as well as farmers markets, retail stores and roadside stands.

The Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program goals are:

  1. Monitor pesticide residues in fresh produce sold in California. DPR scientists routinely sample commonly consumed produce for pesticide residues (Figure 1). To reflect the culinary diversity across California, and as part of our commitment to Environmental Justice, DPR residue monitoring staff sample a wide range of fruits and vegetables collected from sampling sites representative of the cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups in California. Emphasis is placed on sampling fruits and vegetables consumed by infants and children and commodities treated with pesticides listed as carcinogens or reproductive toxins.
  2. Identify specific fruit and vegetable commodities with a higher incidence of illegal pesticide residues. DPR increases sampling of commodities that have a history of higher incidence of illegal pesticide residues.
  3. Provide residue data to DPR’s Human Health Assessment Branch to assess the dietary risk of certain pesticides.
  4. Remove produce with illegal residues from the marketplace. DPR removes produce with detected illegal pesticide residues from sale and the channels of trade. An “illegal pesticide residue” is any residue detected that is greater than a tolerance level set by the US EPA or does not have a tolerance established by the US EPA. However, a sample with an illegal pesticide residue does not necessarily indicate a potential health concern.
  5. Provide the public a summary of the results of the pesticide residue monitoring program.

2016 Pesticide Residue Monitoring Sample Collection

Sample Origin

In 2016, DPR collected 3,585 produce samples, representing 161 different fruits and vegetables intended for human consumption. A produce sample constitutes approximately two pounds of a single type of produce (such as head lettuce) collected at a sampling site. Samples were collected from businesses in the channels of trade, including wholesale and retail outlets, distribution centers, and farmers’ markets. Commodities sampled originated from 27 countries (Figure 2). About 62% of the samples were domestically (U.S.) grown produce (2,228 samples); 37% of the samples were of imported produce (1,320 samples); and the remaining 1%, (37 samples) were of undetermined origin. California grown produce accounted for about 24% of (869 samples) of all samples tested.

Figure 2. Origin of produce sampled by the California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program in 2016

Origin of produce sampled by the California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program in 2016

Commodities Sampled

The 3,585 produce samples collected represented 161 different commodities. Approximately one third of these commodities were sampled at least 20 times over the course of the year. Four commodities were sampled over 100 times (apples, grapes, kale, and corn). About half of commodities were encountered and sampled five or fewer times during the year (Figure 3). Many factors including the popularity of a type of produce, time of year, how often the produce is encountered when sampling, and regional differences in produce availability affects the sampling frequency of commodities.

Frequency of Commodities Sampled in 2016

Pesticide Residue Monitoring Sample Testing Results

The 3,585 collected samples were analyzed at California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Analytical Laboratories, located in Sacramento and Anaheim, using GC and LC tandem mass spectrometry to detect nearly 400 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products. The majority of samples (96%) had either no detected pesticide residues or had residue levels at or below U.S. EPA tolerance levels (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Percentages of produce samples collected in 2016 with legal, illegal, or no detected pesticide residues

Percentages of produce samples collected in 2016 with legal, illegal, or no detected pesticide residues

Commodity Specific Test Results

Of the 3,585 samples tested in 2016, a total of 238 illegal residues were found on 149 samples. Fourteen different commodities accounted for the majority of these illegal residue samples (Table 1). Table 2 summarizes the residue testing results for the most frequently sampled commodities in 2016.

Table 1. The 14 commodities accounting for over half of the illegal pesticide residue samples collected in 2016. Sample results are separated by country of origin.

Commodity All Samples
Collected Illegal % Illegal Illegal Samples
Country of Origin* (# samples)
Legal Samples
Country of Origin ( # samples)
PEA, SNOW (SUGAR PEA) 37 11 29.7% GU (7); PE (4) US (6); GU (9); ME (7); PE (4)
CACTUS PADS 28 10 35.7% US (2); ME (7); Unk (1) ME (16); UNK (2)
LONGAN 12 10 83.3% VN (10) US (1); VN(1)
GINGER ROOT 62 9 14.5% US (1); CN (8) BR (1); CN (46); PE(3);TH (2); Unk (1)
TOMATILLO 68 8 11.8% US (1); ME (7) US (7); ME (52); Unk (1)
PEPPERS (CHILI TYPE) 61 7 11.5% US (1); ME (6) US (9); ME (45)
KALE 114 6 5.3% US (5); ME (1) US (98); ME (10)
LITCHI NUTS 13 6 46.2% CN (6) ME (5); US (2)
PEACH 81 4 4.9% US (4) US (71); CH (5); ME (1)
TANGERINE 55 4 7.3% CH (3); PE (1) US (29); AS (4); CH (7); PE (11)
CACTUS PEAR 14 4 28.6% ME (2); Unk (2) ME (9); UNK (1)
DRAGON FRUIT 7 4 57.1% VN (4) GU (1); ME (2)
SPINACH 59 3 5.1% US (3) US (54); ME (2)
BOK CHOY (WONG BOK) 27 3 11.1% US (3) US (20); ME (4)

* Country of origin abbreviations: US-USA, AS-Australia, BR-Brazil, CH-Chile, CN-China, GU-Guatemala, ME-Mexico, PE-Peru, TH-Thailand, VN-Vietnam, Unk-unknown origin


Table 2. The 25 commodities most frequently sampled (accounting for over half of the samples) in 2016. Sample results are separated by country of origin.

Commodity All Samples
Collected Illegal % Illegal Illegal Samples
Country of Origin* (#samples)
Legal Samples
Country of Origin (#samples)
APPLE 129 0 0.0% - US (113); CH (2); CN (2); NZ (10); Unk (2)
KALE 114 6 5.3% US (5); ME (1) US (98); ME (10)
GRAPES 113 1 0.9% US (1) US (83); CH (15); ME (10); PE (3); Unk (1)
CORN 100 0 0.0% - US (80); ME (18); Unk (2)
BROCCOLI 99 0 0.0% - US (98); ME (1)
NECTARINE 88 0 0.0% - US (63); CH (25)
MANGO 87 1 1.1% ME (1) BR (3); EC (18); ME (49); PE (15); PR (1)
PEACH 81 4 4.9% US (4) US (71); CH (5); ME (1)
PEPPERS (BELL) 80 1 1.3% ME (1) US (35); CA (3); IS (2); ME (39)
ORANGE 76 0 0.0% - US (72); AS (1); CH (2); ME (1)
CABBAGE 76 1 1.3% US (1) US (70); CA (1); ME (2); Unk (2)
CARROTS 73 1 1.4% US (1) US (71); ME (1)
SWEET POTATO 73 0 0.0% - US (73)
ASPARAGUS 73 1 1.4% PE (1) US (7); ME (56); PE (9)
STRAWBERRY 72 0 0.0% - US (67); ME (5)
TOMATILLO 68 8 11.8% US (1); ME (7) US (7); ME (52); Unk (1)
POTATO (WHITE, RED, RUSSET) 66 0 0.0% - US (65); Unk (1)
TOMATO 65 2 3.1% ME (2) US (24) ME (38); Unk (1)
CELERY 64 2 3.1% US (2) US (57); ME (4); Unk (1)
GINGER ROOT 62 9 14.5% US (1); CN (8) BR (1); CN (46); PE(3);TH (2); Unk (1)
BANANA 62 0 0.0% - CR (3); EC (45); GU (10); ME (3); Unk (1)
PEPPERS (CHILI TYPE) 61 7 11.5% US (1); ME (6) US (9); ME (45)
LETTUCE (ICEBERG, HEAD) 59 0 0.0% - US (59)
SPINACH 59 3 5.1% US (3) US (54); ME (2)
BEANS (GREEN, STRING) 56 2 3.6% US (2) US (37); ME (15); Unk (2)

* Country of origin abbreviations: US-USA, AS-Australia, BR-Brazil, CA-Canada, CH-Chile CN-China, CR-Costa Rica, EC-Ecuador, GU-Guatemala, IS-Israel, ME- Mexico, NZ- New Zealand, PE-Peru, PR-Portugal, TH-Thailand, VN-Vietnam, Unk-unknown

Organic Produce Sample Results

Produce labeled as “organic” does not mean “not treated with pesticides.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows certain pesticides for use in organic farming. In addition, certified organic produce may have residues of other pesticides that are less than 5% of the U.S. EPA tolerance for that commodity (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 205.671).

In 2016, 148 (4.1%) of the samples collected were labeled as organically grown. These samples represented 53 different types of commodities. 78% of these samples (116 of 148) were grown in the U.S. with the majority grown in California. The CDFA laboratory reported results for these samples to DPR and the CDFA Organic Program which is responsible for enforcement of state and federal organics standards. 1.4% (2 of 148) of organic samples tested had either an over tolerance or no tolerance established violation (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Organic produce residue testing results

Organic produce residue testing results

DPR’s Collaborative Efforts- Highlighting Glyphosate Residue Testing

Multiple state agencies are assessing the public’s exposure to the herbicide glyphosate. In conjunction with the CDFA’s Center for Analytical Chemistry, DPR piloted a project screening fresh produce for glyphosate residues. Screening of glyphosate required the CDFA lab to develop a specialized process for analyzing glyphosate residues in addition to their standard screen for nearly 400 pesticides and pesticide breakdown products. Between July 2016 and June 2017, DPR collected 308 samples, representing 52 different commodities, specifically for glyphosate screening. (Table 4).

Table 4. Commodities sampled for glyphosate residue testing in 2016

Commodity Samples Commodity Samples
APPLE 8 LETTUCE, CRISPHEAD TYPES 3
ASPARAGUS 5 LETTUCE, LEAF 2
AVOCADO 2 MANGO 2
BEANS  (SEED & POD VEGETABLE) 2 NECTARINE 2
BEANS (GREEN, STRING) 33 ONION 2
BEANS (SNAP) 8 ONIONS (GREEN) 2
BLACKBERRY 2 ORANGE 2
BLUEBERRY 1 PAPAYA 4
BOK CHOY 1 PEA, SNOW (SUGAR PEA) 3
BROCCOFLOWER 1 PEACH 5
BROCCOLI 6 PEAR 2
CABBAGE 3 PEPPERS 3
CANTALOUPE 3 PINEAPPLE 2
CARROTS 41 POTATO 4
CAULIFLOWER 1 CACTUS PEAR 2
CHAYOTE (CHRISTOPHENES) 1 CACTUS PADS 4
CHINESE CABBAGE 8 RADISH 1
CILANTRO 1 RASPBERRY, RED 1
CORN, SWEET 38 SPINACH 9
GARLIC 3 SQUASH (SUMMER) 3
GINGER ROOT 1 STRAWBERRY 5
GRAPES 6 SWEET POTATO 39
GRAPES 1 TANGERINE 7
KALE 8 TOMATILLO 8
KIWI FRUIT 1 TOMATO 2
LEMON 1 WATERMELONS 3

Glyphosate produce residue testing results

No illegal glyphosate residues were found on any of the 308 samples (Figure 6). Four samples had glyphosate residues that were well below the US EPA established tolerance levels (Table 5).

Figure 6. Commodities sampled for glyphosate residue testing in 2016

Commodities sampled for glyphosate residue testing in 2016

Table 5 Produce samples with detected glyphosate residues

Sample Commodity Origin Detected Residue (ppm) Legal Tolerance
40CFR§180.364 (ppm)
R16M01484 SWEET POTATO USA 0.052 3
R16M01711 CACTUS PADS Mexico 0.030 0.5
R17M00333 ASPARAGUS Mexico 0.064 0.5
R17M00709 TANGERINE USA 0.010 0.5

All Residue Test Results

For more information on results, the 2016 DPR Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Data are available for downloading on DPR’s website at www.cdpr.ca.gov. Click on “A-Z Index” and then go to “Residue Monitoring Program.”

DPR Enforcement on Illegal Pesticide Residues

When illegal pesticide residues are found, DPR immediately investigates and quarantines the produce containing the illegal residues (Figure 5). The owner of the quarantined commodity may securely dispose of it on site, or be allowed to either “recondition” the produce or convert it into byproducts. Reconditioning is intended to reduce an over-tolerance of an otherwise legal residue or eliminate an illegal residue when there is no tolerance established and may include washing of the produce. After reconditioning, the owner must pay for the sample to be reanalyzed. If test results show the pesticide residue below the legal tolerance, the owner may be allowed to sell the produce. If not, disposal of the produce is required.

This lot of 144 pallets of longan was quarantined by DPR scientists on suspicion of carrying illegal pesticide residues and later destroyed after the CDFA laboratory confirmed illegal residues were present.

Figure 5. This lot of 144 pallets of longan was quarantined by DPR scientists on suspicion of carrying illegal pesticide residues and later destroyed after the CDFA laboratory confirmed illegal residues were present.

DPR investigators trace the movement of produce with illegal residues by contacting distributors, retailers, and wholesalers throughout California; obtaining copies of invoices, customs forms, and other paperwork; imposing quarantines; and collecting additional samples as needed.

If 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 this investigation. Both DPR and CACs have authority to levy civil penalties for illegal use of pesticides

DPR has the authority to levy civil penalties against anyone who packs, ships, or sells produce with illegal pesticide residues. To stem the flow of produce with illegal residues into California, DPR conducts compliance interviews with companies repeatedly identified as the first point of sale in California of produce with illegal residues. These companies are typically produce importers, brokers, or distributors. During these compliance assistance interviews, DPR staff reviews the illegal residue cases with company representatives, and discusses steps the company may take to prevent future sale of produce with illegal pesticide residues. Companies are also notified of DPR’s intention to take civil penalty actions if additional illegal residue violations are found.

In 2016, DPR imposed $45,000 in civil penalties against four California produce companies with a history of recurring illegal pesticide residue violations. Information on these penalties can be found at the following link “Produce with Illegal Pesticide Residue Fines and Settlements.”