USDA releases new report on pesticide in food

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has recently published its 31st annual report on pesticide residues in food, referred to as the Pesticide Data Program (PDP). The results shown are encouraging as, with 10 127 samples tested in 2021, more than 99% of them had residues below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with 24% having no detectable residue.  

Each year the PDP works with State agencies representing all census regions of the country and nearly half of the US population. In 2021, the samples were collected in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. The number of samples collected by each state is apportioned according to that State’s population.  

PDP commodity sampling is based on a rigorous statistical design, with samples randomly chosen close to the time and point of consumption, reflecting what is typically available to the consumer throughout the year. Samples are selected without regard to country of origin, variety, growing season, or organic labeling. The PDP draws particular attention to foods that are consumed by infants and children.  

The commodities analyzed in 2021 were mainly fresh and processed fruit and vegetables (94% of total samples). Both domestic products and imported once have been considered, accounting respectively for 67.8% and 30.8% of the total samples checked. The rest of the samples were of mixed national origin (0.9%) or of unknown origin (0.5%).  

Of the 54 samples detected with residues exceeding the tolerance limits, 29 were domestic, 24 were imported, and 1 was of unknown origin.  

Residues with no established tolerance were found in 3.7 percent (374 samples) of the total samples tested (10,127 samples). Of these 374 samples, 220 were domestic (58.8 percent), 150 were imported (40.1 percent), and 4 were of unknown origin (1.1 percent).  

PDP laboratories also test foods for low levels of environmental contaminants. These substances are no longer used as pesticides in the US, however, they are monitored due to their persistence and presence in soil, where they can be taken up by plants.  

Because PDP data are used for risk assessments, PDP laboratory methods are geared to detect very low levels of pesticide residues, even when those levels are well below the tolerances established by EPA.  

The PDP is not designed for enforcement of EPA pesticide residue tolerances, that’s up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, the PDP provides FDA and EPA with monthly reports of pesticide residue testing and informs the FDA if residues detected exceed the EPA tolerance or have no EPA tolerance established. EPA relies on PDP data to conduct dietary risk assessments and to review the maximum amount of a pesticide allowed to remain in or on a food. In case EPA declares a pesticide not safe for human consumption, it will enforce mitigation measures to reduce the exposure to the pesticide through actions such as amending the pesticide label instructions or changing/revoking a pesticide residue tolerance, or not registering a new use.  

PDP laboratories conducted more than 2.7 million analyses, representing each pesticide monitored on each commodity, therefore, the complete PDP database file for 2021 along with annual summaries and database files for previous years are only available in their entirety on the PDP website ( or via email request ([email protected]). PDP data are also available using the PDP database search tool that can be accessed at: pdp.