If you are a farmer, manufacturer, or food producer, you probably have your product tested for pesticides. You take a sample, you send it in, and then you wait for the results. Pretty straight forward. But what happens on our end? And more importantly, what happens when we detect pesticide residues in your product?
When our laboratory detects an illegal pesticide residue (one that is either not registered for that commodity or is over the allowable limit), our first response is to tell the client. However, our responsibilities don’t end there. Safe Food Alliance is certified by the State of California for Pesticide Testing and has reporting responsibilities under the law. So, what do we do?
Understanding Pesticide Residue Rules
The California Health and Safety Code section 110495 requires illegal pesticide residues to be reported to the state if the food is in the channels of trade. This notification must occur within 24 hours of the finding, and the “laboratory or other party which brokers, or otherwise arranges, for the performance of pesticide chemical residue testing” (i.e., the client) must report it. So, who does this get reported to, and what constitutes “channels of trade”?!
It Depends On the Food
The answer to these questions depends on whether the food is a raw agricultural commodity or processed food.
For raw agricultural commodities, the channels of trade begin when the produce leaves the farm and is either distributed/sold for consumption or delivered for processing. Illegal residues detected on these commodities must be reported to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).
Processed foods are a different matter. Under the DPR definition, commodities that have been “mechanically or thermally altered” are not considered raw agricultural commodities-this includes dried fruit and tree nuts, cereals, and juices. Here, the channels of trade begin at the point where the commodity leaves the direct control of the processor. This handoff happens when the product has been shipped or released for sale or use. The laboratory reports any illegal residues in processed foods to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Food & Drug Branch.
Exceptions to Every Rule
There are some rare exceptions to the rules: for example, a commodity produced in one country, processed in California, and exported for consumption in a third country may have a residue that is legal in the country of origin and the destination country but be illegal in California. So long as the product is not consumed in California, the processor is not in violation of the law.
Need more of a foundational understanding of pesticide limits? Read The Basics of Food Tolerances and Maximum Residue Limits
Handling Pesticide Residues in Food
Regardless of the state agency contacted about a violation, an investigation and follow-up report take place. If the product originated in California, the application of the pesticide would be reviewed to see if there were any label violations. Additional sampling and testing may be required, and the commodities with illegal residues will likely be destroyed. If the product is already in the channels of trade, the company must remove the remaining foodstuffs from the market.
The Costs of Finding a Pesticide Residue
Failure to obey the law can be costly. To quote the DPR’s website:
“Companies packing, shipping, or selling produce with illegal pesticide residue are subject to civil prosecution of up to $10,000 per each violation under Food and Agricultural Code (FAC) section 12998, or, in lieu of civil prosecution, a civil administrative penalty of up to $5,000 under FAC section 12999.4.”.DPR Enforcement
How do we avoid these expensive mistakes? Being vigilant about the use of pesticides is step one: the label is the law! All applications must be made legally and by trained personnel to avoid creating illegal residues.
The next step is making sure to test these commodities before they enter the channels of trade; analyzing raw agricultural products before harvest and processed commodities before they are shipped can avoid costly fines, finished product destruction, and market withdrawals. Having a knowledgeable partner for food testing is also crucial to success. Safe Food Alliance can help you with your pesticide testing and consultation needs, so give us a call!
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