Table grapes and peppers were among products that most often exceeded residue limits in random testing, according to the annual report on pesticides in food in the European Union.

The report, published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), is based on data from official controls by EU member states, Iceland and Norway and includes targeted and random sampling.

For the 11,679 samples analyzed in the EU‐coordinated control program, which uses a randomized sampling strategy, 166 exceeded the maximum residue level (MRL) and 101 were non‐compliant. In 58 percent of samples, no quantifiable levels of residues were reported and 4,743 had pesticide residues within permitted levels.

Reasons for non-compliances include use of non‐EU‐approved pesticides, contamination from previous uses so residues come from the soil and substances no longer used as pesticides but that are persistent in the environment.

Table grapes and sweet peppers/bell peppers were among items most often above MRLs.

2018 vs 2015 results
Non‐EU‐approved pesticides reported to exceed limits in samples of these two items produced in the EU included chlorfenapyr and triadimefon in sweet peppers and carbendazim (RD), omethoate and acephate in table grapes. Among samples grown outside the internal market, the non‐EU‐approved pesticides exceeding limits were carbaryl, fenitrothion, carbofuran (RD) and propiconazole in sweet peppers and acephate and carbendazim (RD) in table grapes.

In this program, the same group of items are monitored every three years. In 2018, 12 food products were considered: aubergines (eggplant), bananas, broccoli, cultivated fungi, grapefruit, melons, sweet peppers/bell peppers, table grapes, wheat grain, virgin olive oil, bovine fat and chicken eggs. Results were compared with those of 2015. Samples were analyzed for 177 pesticide residues.

The MRL exceedance rate increased from 2015 to 2018 in table grapes (from 1.8 to 2.6 percent), sweet peppers/bell peppers (from 1.2 to 2.4 percent), bananas (from 0.5 to 1.7 percent) and eggplant (from 0.6 to 1.6 percent). It fell for broccoli (from 3.7 to 2 percent), virgin olive oil (from 0.9 to 0.6 percent) and chicken eggs (from 0.2 to 0.1 percent).

EU‐harmonized MRLs are set for more than 1,240 pesticides covering 378 food products and groups. A default MRL of 0.01 mg/kg is applicable to nearly 690 of these pesticides, not mentioned in the legislation.

Overall findings
In 2018, 95.5 percent of the overall 91,015 samples analyzed fell below the MRL, 4.5 percent exceeded this level, of which 2.7 percent, or 2,478 samples, were non‐compliant as they exceeded the MRL after accounting for measurement uncertainty. In total, 821 pesticides were analyzed and on average, 239 per sample.

The number of samples within the legal limit was similar to 2017. The amount that exceeded the limit was slightly higher than the previous report. Reporting countries analyzed 821 different pesticides.

National control programs are risk based, focusing on products likely to contain pesticide residues or for which MRL infringements were identified previously.

Of the more than 90,000 samples, 43,542 contained one or several pesticides in quantifiable concentrations. Multiple residues were reported in 26,461 samples which was slightly higher than in 2017. In one goji berry sample from China, up to 29 different pesticides were found.

As in 2017, the pesticides mostly quantified were boscalid (RD), imazalil, fludioxonil (RD), acetamiprid (RD) followed by fluopyram. Chlorate had the highest MRL exceedance rate at 10.3 percent compared to 6.4 percent in 2017.

Other findings for EU non‐approved active substances were 44 samples containing nicotine, mainly in goji berries from China, cultivated fungi and kales; 88 samples with antraquinone, mainly in teas from China; 113 samples containing fipronil (RD) of which 63 were in chicken eggs mainly from Romania and tricyclazole in 109 rice samples.

Results by origin
Overall, 57,286 samples originated from EU reporting countries, 24,495 concerned products imported from third countries and for 9,234 samples no product origin was reported.

In samples from one of the reporting countries; 3.1 percent exceeded the MRL and 1.6 percent were considered non‐compliant, taking into account measurement uncertainty. Samples from third countries had a higher MRL exceedance rate of 8.3 percent and non‐compliance rate of 5.8 percent.

The highest exceedance rates from reporting countries were for products from Portugal, Cyprus and Malta with more or equal to 6 percent of samples above the MRL. The top exceedance rates of more than 15 percent of the samples were for Suriname, Jordan, Uganda, Pakistan, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Thailand, China and India.

Exceedances remain higher for unprocessed food than processed food but the rate for processed food increased in 2018. A slight increase was reported in multiple residues compared to 2017. The rate of multiple residues is higher in unprocessed food than in processed products.

Some products exceeding the MRL were risk‐based samples with increased import controls such as coriander leaves, pomegranates, chili peppers, pitahaya, basil, teas and yardlong beans. Almost 83,000 consignments were imported to the EU in 2018 and 4.8 percent were non‐compliant compared to 3 percent in 2017.

Organic and baby food plus fipronil
Countries analyzed 1,658 samples of foods for infants and young children. The MRL was passed in 22 samples and seven were non‐compliant. As in previous years, the most frequently quantified compounds in baby food were chlorates in 80 samples followed by copper in 39 samples.

Chlorates are by‐products of chlorine solutions used as sanitizing and disinfection agents in industry and as biocides. These uses are necessary to ensure good hygiene of products but lead to detectable residues of chlorate in food. Copper is an approved baby food nutrient.

The 5,735 organic food samples reported in 2018 was slightly lower than 2017. The rate of MRL exceedance fell marginally to 1.4 percent from 1.5 percent and 0.5 percent were non‐compliant compared to 0.7 percent in 2017.

Similar to previous years, the main quantified residue in organic food was copper, found in 225 samples in 28 different food items, followed by dithiocarbamates (RD), bromide ion, chlorates and spinosad. Copper, spinosad, azadirachtin and pyrethrins can be used in organic farming.

Fipronil was found in 68 egg samples. Fipronil, is a veterinary medicinal product or biocide and presence in eggs is because of illegal use. Due to the fipronil incident in chicken eggs in 2017, EFSA recommends member states continue analyzing for acaricides in animal products.

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