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2003 Residues in Fresh Produce


About California’s Pesticide Regulatory Program

California has the nation's most comprehensive program to regulate pesticide use. Under this program:

  • A pesticide's safety and efficacy is evaluated before it is allowed to be used.
  • All agricultural pesticide use must be reported.
  • Pesticide specialists enforce restrictions intended to ensure the proper and safe use of pesticides.
  • Domestic and imported produce is sampled and tested for pesticide residues.
  • Annually, only a small fraction of the samples violated established standards.
  • According to scientific experts, illegal residues rarely present a significant health risk.

Residue Monitoring

The Department of Pesticide Regulation's (DPR) Residue Monitoring Program is the most extensive state residue-monitoring program in the nation. It is the final check in an integrated network of programs designed to ensure the safe use of pesticides in California. In 2003 this program analyzed 3,424 samples of fresh produce. (As a result of ongoing budgetary constraints, the number of samples collected in 2003 was reduced from previous years.) Samples were collected throughout the channels of trade: at seaports and other points of entry into the State, packing sites, wholesale, and retail outlets.

The findings are consistent with those from previous years: there are few violative residues, and pesticide detections in produce are generally well below the allowable levels.

Our marketplace surveillance program is designed to monitor compliance with pesticide laws and to help ensure that any detected pesticide residues are within the established tolerance levels. This program is also designed to provide data on pesticide dietary exposure. This data helps make more realistic assessments of dietary pesticide risk.

In 2003 there were 3424 samples of more than 72 kinds of commodities. Domestic and imported produce were tested. All samples were tested with multi-residue screens capable of detecting more than 200 pesticides and breakdown products. No residues were detected in 68.3 percent of the samples. Residues within tolerance (the legal limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S.EPA]) were found in about 30.8 percent of the samples. The majority of these samples had residues at less than 10 percent of the tolerance level. Illegal residues were found in 0.88 percent of samples. Of these, 0.06 percent had residues that were over the tolerance level, and 0.82 percent had residues of a pesticide not authorized for use on the commodity.

DPR concentrates monitoring on commodities with:

  • A history of violation (domestic and foreign).
  • A significant percentage of detectable residues in previous years.
  • A dietary significance based on consumption frequencies and quantities consumed taking into consideration the dietary patterns of adults, infants, children, and ethnic groups.

Findings and Significance

The validity of any sampling program lies in its design and in its ability to replicate the results. Over the past decade, even as the number of samples varied, the findings have been consistent from year to year. Most residues are below detectable limits. Residues that are found are usually at levels that are measured at a fraction of a part per million (ppm). Less than one percent of samples have residues over the tolerance levels. A tolerance is the highest residue level of the particular pesticide that is legally allowed on the particular commodity. A tolerance is set by U.S. EPA for regulatory purposes and is established at a level that incorporates a margin of safety, and usually assumes a lifetime of consumption of the commodity at the maximum allowable residue level.

While the goal of DPR's regulatory program is to ensure that all food is in compliance with pesticide safety standards, an occasional produce item slightly above tolerance should not automatically be considered a health hazard. The results from years of DPR residue monitoring document the safety of produce grown and consumed in California.

The data collected in 2003 are extensive and available for downloading.