The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has fined six companies that ignored warnings and repeatedly sold imported fruits and vegetables with illegal pesticide residues to predominantly ethnic minority customers. According to an agency statement released July 28, the fines range from $10,000 to more than $20,000 for violating pesticide laws and potentially endangering consumers. The firms were cited for selling lychees, cactus pears and leaves, tomatillos, longan, taro root, and other items imported from Mexico, China, Taiwan and Thailand. “These companies were importing and selling produce to stores that primarily cater to California’s ethnic communities. They were given ample opportunities to change their methods but chose not to do so,” said Brian Leahy, DPR director. “We protect all Californians and will not stand by and watch as companies gamble with people’s health and flout our laws. This action is a reminder that we are serious about protecting all consumers from adverse risk of pesticides.” The six companies being fined are:
- Top Quality Produce Inc. of La Puente, CA, will pay $10,000. On five separate occasions, the company sold produce such as Longan imported from Thailand, Burdock Root imported from Taiwan and Lychees imported from China with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between November 2013 and July 2014.
- Yi Bao Produce Group of Vernon, CA, will pay $15,000. On seven separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from China such as Ginger, Taro Root, Longan and Fragrant Pear with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between March 2013 and September 2014.
- Primary Export International Inc. of South San Francisco, CA, will pay $9,000. On five separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from China, including Longan and Lychees with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between June 2013 and August 2014.
- Marquez Produce of Los Angeles will pay $21,000. On seven separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico, such as Cactus Leaves, Tomatillos and Squash, with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between April 2013 and May 2014.
- La Sucursal Produce Inc. of Los Angeles will pay $12,000. On five separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico, such as Tomatillos, Cactus Pears and Cactus Leaves, with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between August 2013 and July 2014.
- V&L Produce, Inc. of Vernon, CA, will pay $6,000. On four separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico, such as Purslane, Cactus Leaves and Mexican Squash, with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between April 2013 and October 2014.
Since 2013, DPR has repeatedly found imported produce for sale in California that exceeds U.S. pesticide limits. This includes Cactus Pads imported from Mexico that were tainted with an organophosphate-based pesticide which was banned by the U.S. EPA more than 30 years ago because of health concerns. (International countries may have pesticides limits that differ from the U.S., but produce sold in California must meet U.S. limits). DPR inspectors traced this tainted produce back to these six import companies. In each case, DPR warned the importers about the risk of selling such produce in California. However, subsequent investigations showed that the companies continued to import produce from the same suspect sources and sell the tainted food in California. When illegal pesticide residues were found, DPR immediately ordered the produce destroyed and/or quarantined. The full list for enforcement actions for illegal pesticide residues can be found here. DPR conducts statewide inspections of farmers markets, chain stores, distribution centers and other sellers as part of its Residue Monitoring Program. Under this program, DPR randomly selects and tests fruits and vegetables to ensure they do not contain pesticide residues higher than the trace levels legally allowed. The DPR Pesticide Reside Monitoring Program is the most extensive program of its kind in the nation. It annually collects about 3,500 samples of more than 170 kinds of produce from wholesale and retail stores, farmers markets and other outlets. The department collects produce and samples locations that reflect California’s diverse population. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)