According to the latest California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Annual Report from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), 97 percent of fresh produce samples collected across the state contain no pesticide residues exceeding health-protective thresholds set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other key findings include:

  • 37 percent of all samples collected had no detectable pesticide residues
  • 60 percent of samples had residues below EPA benchmarks
  • 3 percent of all samples had illegal residue levels
  • 1 percent of domestically grown produce contained illegal residues
  • No illegal residues were found on 78 types of produce tested, including highly consumed products like avocados and apples
  • Of the illegal residues found, 82 percent were on imported produce.

The DPR report includes data about 3,281 fresh fruit and vegetable samples collected from more than 500 businesses throughout California, including wholesale and retail outlets, distribution centers, and roadside/farmers markets. Samples are analyzed by scientists at California Department of Food and Agriculture laboratories, and are tested for 500 types of pesticides and related compounds. The testing occurs on unwashed, unpeeled produce.

In gathering produce samples, special emphasis was given to the types of produce commonly consumed by children, as well as produce varieties with a history of illegal pesticide residues, produce originating from countries with past illegal-residue detections, and products often treated with chemicals listed under California Proposition 65 as carcinogens or reproductive toxins.

When illegal levels of pesticide residues were found, DPR traced the produce back to the store, distributor, and farmer. Produce with illegal detections were quarantined and considered for destruction to prevent further distribution of tainted products.

The Debate About Pesticide Residue Data for U.S. Produce

DPR’s findings are consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) latest Pesticide Data Program (PDP) Annual Summary, which found that more than 99 percent of products sampled through USDA’s PDP had residues below tolerances set by EPA. Both California DPR’s and USDA PDP’s most recent reports cover the year 2022. Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) latest pesticide residue monitoring program report, covering Fiscal Year 2021, shows that the levels of pesticide chemical residues in the U.S. food supply are generally in compliance with EPA pesticide tolerances, with pesticide residues in 96.7 percent of domestic samples and 89.3 percent of imported samples falling below EPA thresholds.

However, consumer watchdog groups produced their own reports to rival USDA’s and FDA's; shortly following the release of the latest USDA PDP Annual Summary, Consumer Reports published its analysis of seven years of PDP data, suggesting that pesticide residues to pose “significant risks” in 20 percent of produce analyzed, based on more conservative health-protective thresholds than those set by EPA. Additionally, shortly before the release of the most recent USDA PDP Annual Summary, the Environmental Working Group published its annual Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen lists, asserting that 75 percent of all conventional fresh produce samples had residues of potentially harmful pesticides.

Agricultural industry groups like the Alliance for Food and Farming continuously raise issue with watchdog groups’ analyses of pesticide monitoring data, saying about the recently released California DPR report, “With state and federal government sampling data programs repeatedly verifying the high level of safety of fruits and vegetables and the exceptional compliance among farmers with laws and regulations governing pesticide use, consumers should be reassured that they can buy and consume organic and conventional produce with confidence. Unfortunately, certain groups often manipulate the government data and these very positive results to somehow create their own ‘reports’ designed to scare consumers away from popular and more affordable and accessible fruits and vegetables… With only one in ten Americans eating enough fruits and vegetable each day, it is important to provide credible, science-based safety information.”