Pesticide Q&A

Who regulates pesticides in the United Sates?
The responsibility for ensuring that residues of pesticides in foods are not present at levels that will pose a danger to health is shared by FDA, EPA, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pesticides of concern include insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and other agricultural chemicals.

EPA reviews the scientific data on all pesticide products before they can be registered (or licensed) for use. If a product is intended for use on food crops, EPA also establishes a tolerance.

FDA is responsible for enforcing these tolerances on all foods except meat, poultry, and certain egg products, which are monitored by USDA. In addition, FDA works with EPA to set "action levels"-- enforcement guidelines for residues of pesticides, such as DDT, that may remain in the environment after their use is discontinued. The guidelines are set at levels the protect public health.

Source: Excerpted from FDA Consumer, June 1993: FDA Reports on Pesticides in Foods

Does washing fresh produce eliminate pesticide residues from food?
Washing fresh produce before eating is a healthful habit. You can reduce and often eliminate residues if they are present on fresh fruits and vegetables by following these simple tips:

Supermarkets, as a rule, don't wash produce before putting it out, but many stores mist it while its on display. Misting keeps the produce from drying, but surface residues drain off also, in much the same way as from a light wash under the kitchen faucet.

A 1990 report in the EPA Journal by three chemists from the agency, Joel Garbus, Susan Hummel, and Stephanie Willet, summarized four studies of fresh tomatoes treated with a fungicide, which were tested a harvest, at the packing house, and at point of sale to the consumer. The studies showed that more than 99 percent of the residues were washed off at the packing house by the food processor.

A 1989 study reported by Edgar Elkins in the Journal of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists showed the effects of peeling, blanching and processing on a number of fruits and vegetables. For example, in the case of benomyl, 83 percent of the residues found on fresh apples were removed during processing into applesauce, 98 percent of residues from oranges processed to juice were removed, and 86 percent of residues from fresh tomatoes processed to juice were removed. Another study in 1991 by Gary Eilrich, reported in an American Chemical Society Symposium, showed similar results.

Source: Excerpted from FDA Consumer, June 1993: FDA Reports on Pesticides in Foods

  • Wash produce with large amounts of cold or warm tap water, and scrub with a brush when appropriate; do not use soap.
  • Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.
  • Trim the fat from meat, and fat and skin from poultry and fish. Residues of some pesticides concentrate in animal fat. 

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