While contamination of food by zoonotic pathogens is a growing concern, a separate report issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provides a more positive outlook regarding the general safety of pesticide residues in food products.
The annual EFSA report, “Chemicals in food 2016: Overview of selected data collection,” documents the continuing high rates of compliance with applicable European Union (EU) regulations. The EFSA’s analysis is based on data from 2014 in which nearly 83,000 food samples were analysed for the presence of 778 different pesticides. The majority of the samples represented food products from EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. But 25.7% of the sampled products were from countries outside of Europe, and 5% of samples stated no country of origin.
EFSA researchers found that 97.1% of all analysed food samples fell within the EU’s maximum residue limit (MRL) for the identified pesticides. 53.6% of samples were free of any measurable residue, while 43.4% contained measurable residues that were within permitted concentration levels.
Of the remaining 2.9% of samples, approximately half exceeded the legal limits, but did not trigger legal or administrative action due to measurement uncertainty. The remainder of the food samples (1.5% of the total) exceeded the applicable legal limits and were the subject of enforcement actions by national authorities.
There were statistically significant differences in results for samples of food products originating from European countries and those from outside the EU. 56.6% of food samples from EU/EFTA countries were free of measurable residues, and only 1.6% of samples contained residues that exceeded legal limits. By comparison, only 45.5% of food samples from countries from outside of the EU/EFTA were free from measurable pesticide residues, and 6.5% of samples tested exceeded applicable legal limits.
The EFTA report also provides a breakdown of MRL compliance by specific types of processed and unprocessed foods. For unprocessed foods, table grapes had the highest percentage of samples at or below the required MRL, at 77.3%, while wild funghi and tomatoes had the highest percentage of samples with residues above the MRL (20.5 and 20.0% respectively). For processed foods, more than 70% of gooseberries, currents, limes, cherries and rucola tested showed residues at or below applicable MRLs, while guavas, passionfruits, tea and lychees had the highest percentage of samples with residues above the applicable MRL (all above 20%).
The complete text of the EFSA’s report on chemicals in food is available here.