2018 Pesticide Residues in Fresh Produce


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The 2018 California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Report

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) runs one of the oldest and most extensive state pesticide residue-monitoring programs in the nation. The California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program (CPRMP) samples and tests for pesticide residues in individual lots of domestically grown and imported fresh produce. The CPRMP enforces pesticide residue tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). A tolerance is maximum residue level of a specific pesticide that is allowed on human or animal food in the United States. The Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 40, Part 180, lists tolerances and dictates how to analyze raw agricultural commodities for pesticide residue testing. U.S. EPA establishes tolerances for raw agricultural commodities based on the pesticide toxicity, how much and how often the pesticide is applied, and how much of the pesticide remains in or on the commodity.

CPRMP staff sample a wide range of fruits and vegetables collected at sites where produce is sold, packed, or distributed. Produce sampling is not designed to be statistically representative of the overall rate of residue levels for a particular pesticide, commodity, or place of origin. Instead, sampled commodities selected are based on multiple factors including:

  • Produce highly consumed by infants and children.
  • Produce treated with pesticides listed as carcinogens or reproductive toxins.
  • Produce reflective of differences in consumption patterns among different ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
  • Produce which has a history of detected illegal pesticide residues.

Therefore, sampling results may be biased towards finding produce more likely to have pesticide residues than if samples were collected in a truly random statistical fashion. 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.

DPR contracts with the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Center for Analytical Chemistry. Their ISO 17025 accredited laboratories analyze samples for over 400 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products. ISO/IEC 17025 is the standard for laboratory competence worldwide.

If illegal residues are found DPR immediately removes the illegal produce out of the channels of trade. In addition, if the owner of the commodity has similar produce from the same source, DPR quarantines those lots until the laboratory verifies it is free from illegal residues. Further, DPR traces the distribution of the illegal produce by contacting distributors throughout California, imposing quarantines and when needed conducting extra sampling and testing.

Pesticide Residue Monitoring Sample Results

DPR food safety staff collected 3,666 produce samples from approximately 600 different business in 2018. These include wholesale and retail outlets, distribution centers, and roadside and farmers markets (Figure 1).

Residue Sampling Location 2018

Sample Results

Percentage of produce samples with no residues

In 2018, DPR collected 3,666 produce samples, from 25 different countries representing 140 different types of fruits and vegetables. The majority of samples, 3,474 (95%), were legal and either had no detectable pesticide residues or residue levels below U.S. EPA tolerance levels (Figure 2). Illegal pesticide residues were found in 192 samples (5%). The majority of illegal samples (78%) involved detection of pesticide residues with no established federal tolerance.

Country of Origin

Over half the samples collected in 2018, 1,937 samples (53%), were grown domestically, while 1,697 samples (46%) of the samples were imported (Figure 3). The remaining 32 samples (1%) were of undetermined origin due to a lack of information on the containers.

California 2018 Residue Sampling by Origin

Most illegal residues were on imported produce, accounting for 150 (78%) of the 192 produce samples with illegal residues (Figure 4). The violation rate for imported produce samples was nearly five times higher than domestic samples (9% of imported samples had illegal residues versus 2% of domestically grown samples). In 2018, illegal residues were found on commodities originating from 10 different countries (Table 1).

Table 1. Numbers of illegal produce samples collected in 2018 by country of origin

Country of Origin Total Samples Illegal Samples Percent Illegal
Canada 36 1 3%
Chile 112 3 3%
China 62 11 18$
Costa Rica 64 2 3%
Dominican Republic 3 1 33%
Guatemala 69 14 20%
Mexico 1158 103 9%
Peru 29 1 3%
United States 1937 42 2%
Vietnam 19 14 74%
Percentage of produce samples with no residues

Commodity Type Results

In 2018, the program sampled 140 different types of fresh fruits and vegetables (see Appendix 1a&b for the list of all sampled commodities). Illegal residues were found in 51 different types of commodities (Figure 5).

Commodities with illegal residue samples

Dietary Risk Assessments

DPR’s Human Health Assessment Branch (HHA) reviews the toxicity for each illegal pesticide residue. A dietary risk assessment is conducted to determine whether the residues pose a potential acute health risk to consumers. Assessments are based on consumption rates for the produce and acute reference doses for that pesticide or combination of pesticides. If HHA determines the produce may pose a potential health risk to consumers, DPR makes a concerted effort to remove it entirely from the channels of trade. DPR notifies and collaborates with the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on these cases.

In 2018, HHA determined 29 samples (8 different commodities from 4 countries), were potential health risks to consumers (Figure 6.). In all 29 samples, the potential health risks were due to illegal residues of organophosphates or carbamates (Table 2).

Potential health risk residue samples by commodity type and origin

Table 2. Illegal pesticide residues determined to be potential health risks in 2018

Commodity Origin Pesticide Residue
Chayote (Fruit) Mexico Acephate,  Methamidophos,  Monocrotophos
Guaje Mexico Dimethoate,  Methamidophos
Lychee China Chlorpyrifos
Cactus Pear Mexico Carbofuran, Chlorpyrifos, Dimethoate; Malathion, Monocrotophos, Omethoate
Star Apple Vietnam Chlorpyrifos
Dragon Fruit USA, Florida Acephate, Methamidophos
Tomatillo Mexico Methamidophos, Monocrotophos

California Produce Sample Results

California grown produce accounted for more than 34% (666 samples) of all domestic samples tested. This value likely under represents the true number of California grown produce collected, as sampled commodities labeled as “product of USA” are potentially grown in California. For legal residue samples, DPR is unable to determine a state of origin based on labeling for these samples.

Over 94% of the samples labeled as grown in California had legal or no residues detected on them. Of the 666 California samples tested, less than 6% of the samples had illegal residues (37 samples) and none were determined to pose a potential acute health risk to consumers. Of the 84 different types of California grown commodities tested, eighteen types of commodities had at least one sample with illegal pesticide residues (Table 3).

Table 3. Commodities grown in California with illegal pesticide residues detected in 2018.

Commodity Illegal Samples County Grown Illegal Pesticide Residues
Beet roots 1 Ventura Chlorothalonil
Beet tops 8 Ventura, Stanislaus Flonicamid, Fluxapyroxad, Boscalid, Flupyradifurone, Dacthal
Bok Choy 2 Kern Lambda-Cyhalothrin
Cilantro 1 Ventura DDE OP, Cyromazine
Daikon 1 Fresno Chlorpyrifos
Fig 1 Madera Fluopyram
Green Chard 1 Stanislaus Chlorothalonil
Kale 1 Ventura Linuron
Kale (organic) 1 Yolo Permethrin
Kiwi 1 Madera Fluopyram, Tebuconazole
Lettuce (leaf) 1 Imperial Chlorothalonil
Mushroom 1 Santa Clara Carbendazim
Parsley 1 San Luis Obispo Lambda-Cyhalothrin
Persimmon 1 Fresno Fludioxonil
Radish root 3 Ventura, Monterey Fenamidone, Thiamethoxam
Radish tops 9 Ventura Cypermethrin, Fenamidone, Acetamiprid, Flupyradifurone, Thiamethoxam, (includes Clothianidin), Linuron, Prometryn
Strawberry 1 Ventura Cyflumetofen
Snow Peas 1 Santa Barbara Triadimenol
Sweet Potato 1 Merced or Stanislaus Chlorpropham

Organic 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 at less than 5% of the U.S. EPA tolerance for conventionally grown commodities (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 205.671).

The CPRMP collects organic produce as encountered during routine sampling and shares these testing results with CDFA. CDFA is responsible for administering the State Organic program and regulates organic operations in the state. All organic samples with detected pesticides are referred to CDFA for follow up investigation and potential enforcement under the State Organics Program. In cases where an organic sample has pesticide residue levels above the U.S. EPA tolerance for conventionally grown commodities, in addition to referral to CDFA, DPR will also pursue actions.

In 2018, the CPRMP collected 301 organic samples. These samples represented 67 different commodities from nine different countries. Seventy-one percent of the organics tested (213), were of domestic origins; 86 of the samples (29%) were imported. Of the 301 organic samples collected, 28 different pesticides were found on 43 samples. Only one kale sample, grown in California, had an illegal residue of a pesticide that did not have an established tolerance. Results for all organic samples are reported to the CDFA Organic Program for follow-up and enforcement of state and federal organics standards. For more detailed information about the State Organic Program click here: https://organic.cdfa.ca.gov/main.aspx.

Table 4. Pesticides detected on organic commodities sampled in 2018

Pesticide Commodity Number Of Samples
Ametoctradin Cucumber 1
Bifenazate Cucumber 1
Bifenthrin Brussels Sprouts 1
Captan Raspberry 1
Chlorpropham Potato 2
Cyazofamid Cucumber 1
Cypermethrin Cucumber 1
Cyprodinil Cucumber 1
Cyromazine Peppers (Bell) 1
DDE Carrots 1
Radish Root 1
Radish Tops 2
Squash (Summer) 1
Dieldrin Squash (Summer) 1
Fenamidone Kale 1
Flonicamid Brussels Sprouts 1
Kale 1
Flubendiamide Brussels Sprouts 1
Fludioxonil Nectarine 3
Peach 1
Fluopicolide Watermelons 1
Fluopyram Cucumber 2
Grapes 1
Flupyradifurone Bok Choy (Wong Bok) 1
Imidacloprid Cucumber 1
Grapes 1
Mandipropamid Kale 1
Pendimethalin Kale 1
Penthiopyrad Kale 1
Permethrin Avocado 1
Kale 1
Propamocarb Cucumber 1
Pyraclostrobin Peppers (Bell) 1
Pyrimethanil Pear 1
Rotenone Jicama 2
Spinosad Banana 1
Basil 1
Blackberry 2
Blueberry 1
Bok Choy (Wong Bok) 1
Chive 1
Cucumber 1
Grapes 1
Kale 2
Lettuce, Leaf 1
Nectarine 3
Raspberry 1

DPR Enforcement on Illegal Pesticide Residues

When illegal pesticide residues are detected, DPR quarantines the produce containing the illegal residues. The owner of the quarantined produce has the option to either securely dispose of it on site, “recondition” the produce, or convert it into byproducts. Reconditioning can include, washing, peeling or simply waiting for the pesticide residue to breakdown to within acceptable tolerance levels or be eliminated entirely if the illegal residue(s) has no established tolerance. After reconditioning, the owner must pay for the sample to be reanalyzed. If test results show the pesticide residue below the legal tolerance, DPR may allow sale of the produce. If not, disposal of the produce is required.

DPR investigators will trace the movement of the produce with illegal residues by contacting distributors, retailers, and wholesalers throughout California. DPR quarantines and collects additional samples if suspected of carrying illegal residues. If it is determined that the produce with illegal pesticide residues 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. County Agricultural Commissioners have authority to levy civil penalties for illegal use of pesticides.

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. DPR has the authority to levy civil penalties against anyone who packs, ships, or sells produce with illegal pesticide residues.

In 2018, DPR imposed $30,000 in civil penalties against three produce companies with a history of recurring illegal pesticide residue violations. Information on these penalties can be found at Produce with Illegal Pesticide Residue Fines and Settlements.

All 2018 CPRMP produce sampling results 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.

Appendices, PDF