In late October, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service released the 2019 Pesticide Data Program (PDP) summary. The PDP is an ongoing program wherein USDA conducts tests of common commodities to determine to what extent that food may expose a consumer to pesticides. The PDP is a source of high-quality data that represents a national snapshot of the safety of our food supply. And once again, we learned some very good news.
For the calendar year 2019, nearly 99 percent of the commodities tested in the PDP survey had residues below the allowable EPA tolerances for those substances. What that means is that 99 percent of the food examined by USDA has either no pesticide residue or had minimal levels of residue that fell well within or below the EPA’s tolerance levels for any given pesticide product. Only 1.25 percent of the samples tested had residue levels exceeding the tolerance. About 45.2 percent of the samples had no detectable residue at all.
In case you’re wondering how reliable the information is, or how decisions are made about what to test, here are a few things to know about how the study is conducted:
- USDA partners with 10 states, including Washington, California, Texas, Florida, and New York, which represent about 50 percent of the US population, and are major producers of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- The collection tries to replicate how a consumer would handle and consume the food. The produce is rinsed under cold water before testing, but nothing else is done to clean or alter the product.
- The commodities selected are based on what data EPA needs at the time, as well as which commodities are most likely to be consumed by infants and children. Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables tested during 2019 were: asparagus, bananas, basil, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cilantro, collard greens, garbanzo beans (dried), hot peppers, kiwi fruit, mustard greens, oats (grain), orange juice, radishes, rice, spinach (canned and frozen), strawberries (frozen), sweet bell peppers, sweet peas (canned and frozen), tangerines, and tomato paste.
PDP data is helpful for many reasons. It is not used as enforcement data for pesticide tolerance limits – that’s the FDA’s job, not USDA’s job. Nevertheless, the data is helpful to let EPA know if there are particular chemical products that are commonly exceeding their residue limits. But I think that perhaps the most important use of the information is to reassure all consumers that our modern-day food supply is incredibly, remarkably safe.
Lists like “The Dirty Dozen” or click-bait articles telling you “How to Avoid Eating Pesticides” would have American consumers believe that they’re feeding their families chemical-soaked science experiments. By contrast, this science-based, unbiased, and meticulous study can help all of us feel confident in the food purchasing decisions we make. Consumers deserve to know that their food is wholesome and safe. Thanks to PDP, we can say with confidence that all eating is “clean” eating.
For the full survey results, visit https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/2019PDPAnnualSummary.pdf.