Many consumers are concerned about pesticide residue on foods. And this influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. In theory, it does make some sense. None of us want to feed our families food with traces of pesticides on it.
So here’s the good news: pesticide residues aren’t something we need to worry about.
How do we know? Because the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program released its 2017 report. And the results were really, really good. Over 99% of the food sampled in 2017 had residue levels well bellow the tolerances established by the EPA. And, even better, 53% of the food sampled had no detectable pesticide residue.
Let’s break that down a little bit.
EPA’s scientists review lots and lots of research and data before they approve pesticides for farmers to use. The EPA limits the pesticide amount that can be applied on food during growing, processing, and storage. And it limits how much can remain on food before it reaches the consumer. This is called a tolerance. The tolerance is a safety finding: a pesticide can be used in this amount with a reasonable certainty of no harm considering multiple factors. Tolerances are very, very conservative because we don’t want people to get sick.
The USDA’s PDP then steps in to make sure the tolerances are actually working in real life. Starting in 1991, PDP collects food samples from around the country and tests whether any pesticide residue is present. In 2017, over 2 million samples were collected from 10 different states. The food sampled are things mostly commonly eaten by children and infants. And it’s sampled at the time when it most likely reaches the consumer (ie. the grocery store, not right off the farm).
The only thing PDP does is gently rinse the produce in cold water for about 15 to 20 seconds. This is something we should all do, simply because we don’t know who handled the food before we did!
And PDP’s results show that any residue left on produce is well below the tolerances set by the EPA. The pesticide residue an average consumer comes into contact with is negligble. It’s kinda like fecal matter on your toothbrush: it’s there, but it isn’t going to hurt us.
If you’re still concerned, I recommend testing out the pesticide calculator. It calculates how many servings it would take for you to actually get sick from pesticide residue. For what it’s worth, I would have to consume over 13,000 blueberry servings to get sick. I’m not a doctor, but I’m positive pesticides would be the least of my worries.
So if you’re worried, don’t be. Farmers, scientists, regulators, producers, and others take the use of pesticides very seriously. And we’re doing an awesome job keeping our produce safe and clean.