Pesticide Residues in Food No Danger to Consumers

Pesticide Residues in Food No Danger to Consumers
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A new analysis published in the International Journal of Food Contamination shows that pesticide residues in food are at levels far below those that would pose any health concern.

For more than fifty years, the Food and Drug Administration has gathered data on pesticide exposure via the food that we buy. Inspectors periodically purchase thousands of food items from grocery stores all across the United States, prepare each food for consumption, and then finally examine each item for traces of 300 different pesticides.

Armed with the most recent data, collected between 2004 and 2005 on 2,240 food items, Dr. Carl K. Winter, a food scientist at UC-Davis, estimated Americans' daily exposure to pesticide residues from food. He then compared the exposure for each pesticide to its known chronic reference dose, an estimate of the amount of a chemical an individual could be exposed every day without any appreciable risk of harm over his or her lifetime. These doses are extremely conservative, often inflated by two orders of magnitude to ensure consumer safety.

The FDA examination detected residues from 77 different pesticides in the collection of 2,240 food items. Winter's analysis showed that exposure to every single one of them was well below their respective chronic reference doses (RfD).

"Exposures to 3 pesticides exceeded 1% of the chronic RfD values while exposures between 0.1 and 1 % of chronic RfD values were noted for 14 pesticides," Winter reported. "Another 19 pesticides demonstrated exposures between 0.01 and 0.1% of the chronic RfD values, while exposures for the other 41 pesticides were below 0.01% of the chronic RfD."

The highest exposure relative to its RfD was of the insecticide methamidophos, which reached 16%. Methamidophos is commonly used on potatoes and rice from Latin America. It is no longer used in the United States.

Interestingly, two insecticides that have been banned for decades -- DDT and dieldrin -- were present in foods at 1.3% and 2.0% of their RfDs respectively.

"Their presence in food results from low environmental degradation and uptake from contaminated soil by plants," Winter explained.

A big drawback of the study is that the data is more than a decade old. More recent statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, although unfortunately only up-to-date through 2007, show that pesticide use has steadily declined in the United States, so there's no indication that Americans' exposure to pesticides through food would have increased.

Overall, the study's findings are good news for the safety of American consumers.

"Consumers should be encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and should not fear the low levels of pesticide residues found in such foods," Winter writes.

Source: Winter, Carl K. "Chronic dietary exposure to pesticide residues in the United States." 10 July 2015. International Journal of Food Contamination 2015, 2:11  doi:10.1186/s40550-015-0018-y

(Image: Shutterstock)

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