Chronic dietary exposure to pesticide residues in the United States

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Background: Discussions as to the extent of pesticide residue contamination in the food supply often rely on results of government residue monitoring programs focusing primarily upon the percentages of samples containing pesticide residues and the number of violative residues identified. Such an approach does not adequately convey the likelihood of pesticide residues posing consumer risks since residue regulatory limits are not safety standards and violative pesticide residues rarely constitute residues of health concern. It is more appropriate to develop estimates of actual dietary exposure to pesticides and to compare such estimates to established toxicological criteria such as the Chronic Reference Dose (RfD). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Total Diet Study (TDS) previously provided such information but last published its findings in 1995 to estimate dietary exposure to pesticides detected between 1986 and 1991. This paper provides updated estimates of dietary exposure to pesticides in the United States using the most recent TDS findings on pesticide residues. Results: A total of 77 specific pesticides were detected from market basket samples of 2240 TDS food items analyzed by FDA in 2004 and 2005. All estimated exposures to the 77 pesticides for the General US population were well below chronic RfD levels. Only 3 of the 77 pesticides showed exposures greater than 1 % of chronic RfDs, while 14 showed exposures between 0.1 and 1 % of chronic RfDs and 19 had exposures between 0.01 and 0.1 % of chronic RfDs. The remaining 41 pesticides had exposures below 0.01 % of chronic RfDs. Compared with 1986–1991 findings, dietary exposure to six environmentally persistent chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides were reduced by factors of 47 to 96 % in 2004–2005. Exposures to 15 different population subgroups were estimated and indicated that children, particularly two year-olds, frequently receive higher exposures to pesticide residues in their diets than do adults. Conclusions: Chronic dietary exposure to pesticides in the diet, according to results of the FDA’s 2004–2005 TDS, continue to be at levels far below those of health concern. 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, C. K. (2015). Chronic dietary exposure to pesticide residues in the United States. International Journal of Food Contamination, 2(1).

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