Despite the rapid growth of organic farming techniques, the use of pesticides continues to be a popular practice in agriculture. Before any pesticide can be used in the U.S., it must clear the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pesticide Registration & Evaluation process. Even with EPA approval, crops that have been treated with pesticides must be tested for residuals to further ensure food safety.
The use of approved pesticides is not inherently dangerous, especially when best practices are used and proper tolerances maintained. That is why companies that rely on agricultural products employ rigorous pesticide testing protocols. Doing so ensures the types of pesticides used and their residual amounts on the ingredients are safe for their applications.
What many people do not realize is that pesticide testing is not limited to human food products. Medallion Labs can conduct pesticide testing for animal food items and field crops that will not be used for food, such as grass or cotton.
What Are the Risks of Pesticide Use?
How dangerous is the occurrence of a pesticide when it is beyond EPA specified tolerances? That is a difficult question to answer due to several variables.
There are numerous pesticides that farmers use to protect crops from disease, insects and other issues. How one of these pesticides might affect a human can vary greatly by its type, the amount of pesticide residue present and how a person interacted with the pesticide (touch or inhalation versus consumption).
Beyond any food safety threat that could result in a human health threat, the occurrence of pesticides outside of prescribed EPA tolerances can cause unexpected damage to a company’s reputation or organization. If a pesticide-related illness were to occur, it could garner news attention that might have a long-lasting, negative effect on sales, customer confidence, and brand image.
Ultimately, it’s more important to appreciate the important role that pesticide testing plays and how to do it right, rather than questioning the various risks that could result from improper pesticide use or occurrence.
How to Pick a Lab for Pesticide Testing
There are no mandated food analysis tests that labs must use to identify pesticide residues. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for different labs to use different approaches for food testing to reach the same outcome.
Lacking a clear, apples-to-apples comparison, how is a food entrepreneur, business unit director or food executive supposed to evaluate which testing lab they should turn to? The answer is validation.
Medallion Labs, for example, is able to validate their methods. This gives clients confidence knowing the results Medallion Labs provides are accurate and actionable.
How to Identify Your Optimal Testing Procedures
The pesticide test you will need for food analysis depends on the sample you will be testing, how the product or ingredient will be used, and the established tolerances related to the pesticides.
While clients are often interested in broad screen testing, it’s not unusual for a client to have a pesticide of interest that they want to assess. For example, Malathion, an organophosphate insecticide that is commonly used to control mosquitoes, has an established tolerance in wheat that needs to be accounted for. When testing fruits, vegetables, and non-food crops, Medallion Labs is often tasked with identifying Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide, acaricide and miticide that has its own unique set of characteristics.
Connected to identifying pesticides of interest are the implications of regulations resulting from Prop65 (the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986). Prop65 drives a great deal of end-user visibility into which pesticides exist and how they impact label information.
To help clients meet this broad range of needs, Medallion Labs offers three predefined screens as well as the option for single residue testing.
For both Basic Multi Residue Analysis (MRA) Testing and Expanded MRA Testing, we use a modified QuEChERS (Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged and Safe) extraction that is paired with gas and liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry.
Additionally, Medallion Labs offers Glyphosate Analysis, which is a separate method from that of our MRA screens.
Ultimately, Medallion Labs works to understand what a client is testing, what factors come into play and how they will be using the results so we can provide proper testing.
Understanding Pesticide Tolerance Levels in Food
There are a number of questions that arise in connection to pesticide testing as it relates to food analysis. Perhaps the most common relate to US EPS tolerances.
To ensure a safe food supply, the EPA regulates how much pesticide can remain in/on foods under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). This amount is referred to as the “tolerance level.”
If pesticide residues are found above that level, the product will become subject to seizure by the EPA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Arriving at the tolerance level requires multiple scientific studies that consider, among other things, toxicity, exposure, and cumulative effects.
It’s the responsibility of food manufacturing companies to be familiar with these regulations and how they pertain to their products and defer to their own regulatory group to ensure compliance.
How Are Pesticide Testing Results Reported?
Pesticide testing results are reported in mg/kg (parts per million) and are classified as verified or unverified.
If an incurred residue is detected, it must be validated prior to being reported as a verified residue. A non-verified residue is a presumed detection or estimated concentration. The concentration reported could change with further validation work.
Validation of a non-verified residue can be requested within 30 days from the time the residue is reported. Validation testing is applicable for up to five analytes for an additional cost. Due to the instability of the pesticide standards, we are unable to complete validation testing for Ethoxyquin, and 1,2,3,6-THPI (metabolite used in monitoring Captan and Captafol).
Tolerance information is not provided. We can provide a full list of measured limits of detection (LODs) in the form of a supplemental report for an additional cost.
Verifying Your Organic Claims With Pesticide Testing.
Medallion Labs developed an organic screen that would use the target analyte list within the United States Dairy Association (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) guidelines.
Using this screen, we can provide data to support your organic claims. However, it is vitally important that you check with your regulatory team to ensure you’ve done ALL TESTING that may be required to support your claim.
Turn to Us for Reliable Pesticide Testing
Medallion Labs provides a variety of testing options to determine and measure pesticides in food items, pet food items and non-consumable crops such as grass or cotton. We deliver results that are timely and accurate using validated methods. If you have questions about pesticide testing please please reach out to Medallion Labs directly. We are here to help!