Data showing the scale of pesticide residues on food have been published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

110,829 food samples were collected in the European Union in 2022. Results show that 96.3 percent were within legally permitted levels. Of these, 65,374 samples did not contain quantifiable residues, while 37.3 percent had residues not above the limits.

Overall, 4,148 exceeded the maximum residue level (MRL), of which 2,383 were non‐compliant after considering measurement uncertainty and triggering legal sanctions or enforcement actions.

In 2021, 96.1 of the samples were within permitted levels. The MRL exceedance rate was 3.9 percent, and the non-compliant rate was 2.5 percent compared to 3.7 percent and 2.2 percent in 2022.

In 2022, the MRL exceedance and non-compliance rates were four times higher in samples from non-EU countries than in food products grown in one of the reporting countries.

Pesticides with a higher than 1 percent MRL exceedance rate were copper compounds, ethylene oxide, and chlordecone. A decreased exceedance rate was noted for ethylene oxide from 2021, while the other two substances increased.

Results from 12 product groups
The 2022 report on pesticide residues in food, prepared by EFSA, gives an overview of the official control work in EU member states, Iceland and Norway.

For the 11,727 samples analyzed for 193 pesticide residues as part of the EU-coordinated control program, 98.4 percent were within legal limits. This program analyses samples randomly collected from 12 products every three years. For 2022, these were apples, strawberries, peaches, wine, lettuce, head cabbages, tomatoes, spinach, oat grain, barley grain, cow’s milk, and swine fat.

Half of the samples were free of quantifiable levels of residues. More than 5,500 contained one or more residues in concentrations below or equal to MRLs. 192 samples had residues exceeding the permitted levels, and 100 were non-compliant when accounting for measurement uncertainty.

EU non-approved substances were responsible for 75 percent of the non-compliant samples, randomly taken from non-EU countries, and 50 percent for food products harvested in the EU.

The highest number of multiple residues was found in a sample of tomatoes where 16 different pesticides were quantified, followed by strawberries with 15 different pesticides and red wine with 14 pesticides. The tomato and wine samples were grown in the EU, but the strawberry sample had an unknown origin.

Ethylene oxide findings
Ethylene oxide is not approved at the EU level. However, out of 2,026 samples where the substance was analyzed, the MRL was exceeded 47 times. Of those, six samples were of turmeric coming from India, five were of chili peppers from India and Uganda, five were of peppercorn from India, Vietnam, and Lebanon, and four samples of dried beans from India.

In their monitoring programs, EFSA said national authorities should consider ethylene oxide in turmeric, chili peppers, peppercorn, and dried beans from non-EU countries, especially India.

The number of samples with multiple pesticide residues was 23 percent, a decrease from 26.4 percent in the previous year. In a sample of chili peppers in the form of paprika powder of unknown origin, up to 43 different pesticides were reported.

In organic farming, MRL exceedance and non-compliance were in the same range as in 2021, with 2.4 percent exceedances and a 1.4 percent non-compliance rate. Non-authorized substances were reported sporadically in samples. One example was chlorpyrifos, mostly in India’s dry beans, rice, and cumin seed.

In 75 samples of baby food, the MRL was exceeded. When measurement uncertainty was taken into account, 15 led to non-compliant results. MRLs were exceeded in 46 honey samples, and 28 were judged to be non-compliant.

Results from the monitoring programs are a source of information for estimating the dietary exposure of EU consumers to pesticide residues. 

EFSA carried out a dietary risk assessment as part of its analysis of results. This showed the probability that consumers will be exposed to a quantity of residues above a certain safety threshold. EFSA concluded that there was a low risk to public health from the estimated exposure to pesticide residues in the foods tested.

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