USDA Confirms Pesticide Residue Levels are Safe in 99 Percent of Produce

USDA Confirms Pesticide Residue Levels are Safe in 99 Percent of Produce

The USDA confirmed that less than one percent of food tested for pesticide residue levels in 2021 showed results exceeding EPA tolerance standards.

The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) found that most fresh fruits and vegetables contain pesticide residue levels below the tolerances established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the USDA’s annual Pesticide Data Program (PDP) published on December 21,2022 in collaboration with the EPA, 99 percent of food samples tested for pesticide residues were well within EPA tolerance standards.

The PDP annual summary showed that in 2021, a total of 423 samples were reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being over the EPA tolerance level, either because they were above the established tolerance, or no tolerance was established. Pesticide residues exceeded the EPA’s tolerance level in 54 samples out of a total of 10,127 samples tested (0.53 percent), including the following fresh fruits and vegetables:  Green beans — 31 samples exceeded

  • Green beans – 31 samples exceeded
  • Winter squash — seven samples exceeded
  • Peaches — five samples exceeded
  • Fresh blueberries — four samples exceeded
  • Celery — two samples exceeded
  • Eggplant — three samples exceeded
  • Broccoli — one sample exceeded
  • Pears — one sample exceeded

Related: New Food Safety Testing Tool Can Detect Multiple Foodborne Illness-Causing Pathogens

The report also noted that imported produce made up 24 of 54 samples with pesticide residues exceeding EPA tolerance levels. Additionally, one green bean sample contained three pesticides exceeding the EPA’s established pesticide residue levels. In addition, 373 fresh fruit and vegetable samples registered pesticide residues for which no tolerance was established.

To collect data for its annual report, the PDP works with state agencies representing all census regions of the country and nearly half of the US population. In 2021, analyzed samples were collected in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas and Washington. In total, 10,127 samples were tested from 19 different fresh or processed fruits and vegetables, dairy and grains.

Samples are randomly chosen close to the time and point of consumption at distribution centers rather than at the farm gate and reflect what is typically available to the consumer throughout the year. Samples are selected without regard to country of origin, variety, growing season or organic labeling in order to maintain fairness.

The USDA tests a wide variety of domestic and imported foods, with a strong focus on foods that are more likely to be consumed by infants and children. The EPA relies on this data to conduct dietary risk assessments and to ensure that any pesticide residues in foods remain at or below levels established by the agency.

“USDA uses the data to better understand the relationship of pesticide residues to agricultural practices and to implement USDA’s Integrated Pest Management objectives,” according to the report. “USDA also works with US growers to improve agricultural practices and to facilitate the adoption of integrated pest management techniques, including judicious use of pesticides, throughout the food supply chain.” 

While the full results for more than 2.7 million analyses are too numerous to be included in their entirety in the summary report, the complete PDP database file for 2021 along with annual summaries and database files for previous years are available on the PDP website.

The goal of the annual sample data is to support regulators, farmers, processors, manufacturers, consumers and scientists with clear and accurate insights into the levels of pesticide residues found on widely consumed foods.