Tests show low or no pesticide levels in most fruits and vegetables in California

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Tests on produce collected by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) indicate the vast majority of fruits and vegetables available for sale in California meet stringent pesticide safety standards. During its 2015 survey, DPR found 97.3 percent of tested California-grown produce had little or no pesticide residues.

The findings are included in DPR’s just released 2015 Pesticide Residues in Fresh Produce report.

“These results demonstrate California’s commitment to food safety,” said Brian Leahy, Director of DPR. “Our scientific program ensures that growers continue to produce fresh fruits and vegetables that consumers can safely enjoy.”

The report is based on year-round collection of approximately 3,600 samples of produce, including those labelled as “organic,” conducted by DPR scientists at grocery stores, farmers markets, food distribution centers, and other outlets throughout California.

The produce is tested for more than 350 types of pesticides using state of the art equipment operated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) sets levels for the amount of pesticide residue that can be present on fruits and vegetables that will not cause adverse health impacts when consumed. The highest residue level that is allowed on a commodity is called a “tolerance.” It is a violation if a residue exceeds the established tolerance for the specific fruit or vegetable, or if a pesticide for which no tolerance has been established is detected. However, a sample with an illegal pesticide residue does not necessarily indicate a potential health concern.

Highlights from the 2015 report include:

39.8 percent of all produce samples had no detectable residues at all, while 55.8 percent had residues detected within the legal level.
1.2 percent of the samples had pesticide residues in excess of the established tolerance level.
An additional 3.1 percent of the samples had illegal traces of pesticides that were not approved for that commodity.

Produce that most frequently tested positive for illegal pesticide residues in 2015 included ginger from China; cactus pads, cactus fruits, and limes 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 September 2016, DPR imposed a $10,000 fine against a California grower after an illegal pesticide was detected on his grapes in the marketplace and on the crop in his 43-acre vineyard.

DPR continues to find a small but significant number of cases of illegal residues on fresh produce from Mexico and other countries. See press release on Repeat Pesticide Offenders. To help address this DPR is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to identify and eliminate potential sources of illegal residues. DPR also collaborates with international trade organizations and grower groups, encouraging them to educate their constituents about preventing pesticide residues in their commodities.

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