The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced Tuesday that the majority of 2013 produce samples it tested had little or no detectable pesticide residues and posed no health risk to the public. Ninety-five percent of all California-grown produce, sampled by DPR in 2013, was in compliance with the allowable limits, the agency stated. DPR tested 3,483 samples of different fruits and vegetables sold in farmers markets, wholesale and retail outlets, and distribution centers statewide. More than 155 different fruits and vegetables were sampled to reflect the dietary needs of California’s diverse population. “This is a vivid example that California fresh produce is among the safest in the world, when it comes to pesticide exposure,” said DPR Director Brian R. Leahy. “DPR’s scientifically robust monitoring program is an indication that a strong pesticide regulatory program and dedicated growers can deliver produce that consumers can have confidence in.” Click here for a video story of inspectors collecting samples and testing for pesticides.

Graphic courtesy of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Of all 3,483 samples collected in 2013:

  • 43.53 percent of the samples had no pesticide residues detected.
  • 51.51 percent of the samples had residues that were within the legal tolerance levels.
  • 3.99 percent of the samples had illegal residues of pesticides not approved for use on the commodities tested.
  • 0.98 percent of the samples had illegal pesticide residues in excess of established tolerances. A produce item with an illegal residue level does not necessarily indicate a health hazard.
Each piece of fruit or vegetable may legally contain trace amounts of one or more pesticides. The amount and type of pesticide (known as a tolerance) is limited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. DPR’s Residue Monitoring Program staff carries out random inspections to verify that these limits are not exceeded.

The produce is tested in laboratories using state-of-the-art equipment operated by California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). In 2013, these scientists frequently detected illegal pesticide residues on produce including:

  • Cactus Pads from Mexico
  • Ginger from China
  • Snow Peas from Guatemala
  • Spinach from the U.S.

Most of the 2013 illegal pesticide residues were found in produce imported from other countries and contained very low levels (a fraction of a part per million). The majority of the time they did not pose a health risk, according to DPR. One exception occurred in 2013 when DPR discovered that cactus pads imported from Mexico were tainted with an organophosphate-based pesticide which had the potential to sicken people. DPR worked with the California Department of Public Health to issue an alert to consumers in February 2014. DPR also worked diligently to remove the entire product from store shelves and distribution centers. In addition, DPR asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to inspect produce at the borders and points of entry to stop shipments of the cactus pads into California. California has been analyzing produce for pesticide residues since 1926 and has developed the most extensive pesticide residue testing program of its kind in the nation. The 2013 pesticide residue monitoring data and previous years are posted here.

  • Are you serious?

    The title of this article is irresponsible and totally misleading. How can you name and article “CA produces shows little or no detectable residues” when about 56.5% of the samples had pesticide residues?

    Also, about 5% of the samples were out of compliance. That’s about 174 samples of produce that is by law illegal to be sold in the US and that was already on the shelves of your local supermarket…So how much produce is on the shelve that is out of compliance that didnt get sampled? Why did it make it to the shelve if it was illegal to be there?

    I’ll tell you why, because there is a lack of pesticide residue testing done by the producers because they are not required to do so, so they are unaware they selling illegal produce. In most cases, the chance of them actually being caught is marginal since there are not enough resources for regulatory bodies to check everything… so I dont blame them for not spending the money to check their product, I wouldnt either unless it was mandatory, I dont blame the FDA/USDA/DPR for not having enough resources to be able to check everything, but I do believe it is completely irresponsible to develop a FSMA without any improvements to the field of Pesticide Residue Food Safety. Is it that hard/complex to put a clause requiring a pesticide residue test before a product hits the shelves? Especially for organics?

    I dont understand why the media continues to paint a pretty pesticide residue picture. There should be more pressure for pesticide food safety compliance, not less.