farmers market fruit and vegetables
Farmers market with various colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Aleksandar Mijatovic/

Press Release Provided Department of Pesticide Regulation

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) today released a 2020 report finding that the vast majority of fruits and vegetables sampled in the state meet federal pesticide safety standards.

The California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Report shows 95% of domestically grown and imported produce samples collected in 2020 had either no detectable pesticide residues or had residues within the allowable tolerance, based on federally established thresholds. In addition, more than 97% of produce samples labeled as “grown in California” had no residues or allowable tolerances. These results, compiled annually, are consistent with the last several years of produce residue monitoring, and emphasize the strength of California’s pesticide regulatory program.

The 2020 report’s findings are based on 2,892 produce samples collected by the department at nearly 500 locations.

The monitoring program is a critical element of DPR’s mission to protect people as well as the environment. Federally established tolerances determine the maximum residue level of a specific pesticide allowed on food in the United States. In setting a tolerance, a safety finding must be made that the pesticide can be used with “reasonable certainty of no harm.”

“The Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program helps ensure the safety of California’s supply of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in and outside of our state,” said DPR Director Julie Henderson. “The 2020 report reflects the work of our environmental scientists, enforcement team and staff who continued sample collection and testing during the height of the pandemic to protect the health of California consumers.”

DPR scientists throughout the year visit food distribution centers, stores and outdoor markets to collect samples of foreign and domestically grown produce. The samples are tested by California Department of Food and Agriculture labs for more than 500 pesticide residues and breakdown products.

U.S.-grown produce continues to have significantly fewer illegal pesticide residues than imported produce. Imported produce accounted for nearly 78% of illegal pesticide residue samples. Of the imported commodities sampled, cactus pads and cactus pears originating from Mexico and dragon fruit primarily from Ecuador and Vietnam continue to show high percentages of illegal pesticide residues.

When illegal residues are detected, DPR investigators trace the suspect crop through its lines of trade – from store shelves, to shippers, importers or growers. Tainted products and crops are quarantined and subject to reconditioning or potential destruction. Forms of reconditioning may involve rinsing tainted produce or cutting a tainted crop back down to ground level to be regrown and harvested later. In addition to potentially losing their inventory, growers and distributors whose produce exceeds tolerances can face fines and other penalties.

During 2020, DPR issued 142 quarantine notices for more than 70,000 pounds of produce carrying illegal pesticide residues. In addition, DPR referred 27 cases of illegal California-grown samples to local County Agricultural Commissioners (CACs) for investigation of potential illegal pesticide uses. CACs issued statutory fines against growers in instances where produce sources were able to be identified.

As part of enforcement activities, DPR staff provide guidance to growers and importers for ways to prevent sales of illegal produce.

For previous reports and more information about the department’s residue testing program, please visit DPR’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program webpage.

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