Frequently asked questions about residues of plant protection products

1. Must apples, pears or persimmons be peeled before eating?

– Fruit need not be peeled. Maximum residue levels of plant protection products (PPP) are set so that the product is safe also when eaten unpeeled.

If the consumer wishes to minimise the intake of PPP residues, fruit can be peeled. But this means that a lot of valuable nutrients are lost, as well. Washing fruit will remove roughly 30–40% of residues from the skin. However, there are differences between compounds in this respect.

2. Why should grapes be thoroughly rinsed?

– Sodium bisulphite is commonly used to prevent mould in the transport boxes of grapes imported from the southern hemisphere. This produces sulphurous acid on the surface of the grape. It may cause symptoms to people who are sensitive to sulphite, such as asthmatics. Washing reduces the amount of sulphite, but will not remove it completely.

3. Why does Evira recommend washing of fruit and vegetables before eating?

– Both domestic and imported fruit and vegetables need to be washed to remove dust and any other impurities from their surface.

4. Where can I find information about the maximum permitted levels of pesticides in fruit and vegetables?

– The pesticides database on the website of the European Commission lists e.g. plant-specific maximum pesticide residue levels in the EU.

5. How is the cleanliness of domestic berries and other vegetables controlled?

– ELY Centres (Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment) control the use of plant protection products at farm level according to guidance provided by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes and the Agency for Rural Affairs Mavi. Evira controls the use of other pesticides at farm level. Moreover, municipal food control authorities take every year 200–300 samples from domestic foods of plant origin in compliance with Evira's guidelines for purposes of EU's pesticide residues control programme.

The maximum levels are rarely exceeded in Finnish berries and vegetables. Low levels within the permitted limits are mostly found in strawberries and applies.

The results of the control of plant protection products in Finland are published yearly on Evira's website.

6. How is the cleanliness of vegetables imported to Finland controlled?

– Residues of plant protection products in imported foods of plant origin are controlled by the Customs. This is supplemented by the control of the effectiveness of the importer's in-house control system by the municipal food control authorities.

7. Are organic vegetables controlled for residues of plant protection products?

- Both domestic and imported organic vegetables are analysed for residues of plant protection products every year, within the general residue control programme as well as in the control of organic products. Corresponding analyses are performed also on other organic foods. The analyses cover both PPPs authorised for normal production and PPPs authorised for organic production. Plant protection products which are prohibited in the EU are also included in the analyses.

8. How many of the analysed samples are non-compliant?

– On an annual basis, about 2–4% of the samples are found to be non-compliant. However, in most cases they do not cause any health risks, as the maximum residue levels defined for pesticides during the authorisation procedure are usually much lower than required based on toxicological analyses. For example, if the maximum residue level defined based on the safety assessment is 100 mg/kg, but agricultural practices show that, when the product is correctly used, the residue level will be only 1 mg/kg, the maximum residue level is set to the lower value based on good agricultural practice.

In about one tenth of the non-compliant cases, the safety of the product is not certain and the product could cause a health risk.

9. Is there a list somewhere of pesticides which are prohibited in EU?

– There is no list of prohibited pesticides, but there is a list of the pesticides which are authorised in the EU and some of them are also authorised for use in Finland. All other pesticides are prohibited.

Only pesticides with active substances authorised in the EU may be used in the EU. After EU level authorisation, national authorisation is also needed for the product containing active substances for it to be used in Finland, and certain restrictions can be imposed on the use of the product; for example, the use of the product can be prohibited in groundwater areas or in consecutive years.

10. How is the safety of pesticides and pesticide residues assessed?

– The safety of a pesticide is assessed in the EU by analysing its effects on health, the environment, and plants. Extensive analyses are needed for the assessment, and the process takes several years.

A maximum residue level, or MRL, is set for the pesticide in vegetables. The MRL is determined based on an assessment of the highest level of residues in the food which will not cause a health risk. An assessment is also made of the level of residues in the food when the pesticide is used correctly. The MRL is then set to the lower of these two values.

11. Does Evira analyse PPP residues in children's foods?

– Children's foods are every year included in the control programme of residues of plant protection products based on a random sample. In 2014, a specific control project of children's foods was carried out which also covered residues of plant protection products.

12. Are the tiny glistening sheets sometimes seen on the skin of citrus fruit harmless to health?

– The tiny glistening sheets can be sheets of a waxy surface treatment substance. These substances may be used according to a good manufacturing practice and no maximum levels have been set for them. Plant protection products are also used on the surface of citrus fruit to prevent mould. To avoid exposure to these products, the fruit should be washed before peeling, and hands after peeling.

13. Can processed foods, such as noodles, contain excessive levels of pesticide residues?

– Processed foods very rarely contain residues of plant protection products at such high levels that they would cause any health risk to consumers. Naturally processed foods may contain residues, if the raw materials of the foods have contained residues, but often the residues of plant protection products are decomposed or diluted during the manufacturing process of the food.