The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has reached a settlement with a Southern California food importer involving illegal pesticide residues on produce from Mexico.

DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam said Cal Fresco LLC of Buena Park was penalized $10,000 and agreed to implement control measures to prevent sales of produce with illegal pesticide residues in California.

The settlement was reached after tomatillos, Jalapeno peppers and cactus leaf imported from Mexico by Cal Fresco earlier this year tested positive for insecticides that are not registered for use on these crops. Although illegal, the residues were at such low levels they did not pose a health risk.

“This settlement underscores our commitment to enforce pesticide laws designed to ensure safety of the food supply,” Warmerdam said. “Our residue monitoring program is the strongest of its kind in the nation and targets both California-grown fruits and vegetables and fresh produce imported from anywhere in the world.”

The monitoring program collects produce samples from wholesale and retail outlets, chain store distribution centers and farmers’ markets for testing at California Department of Food and Agriculture’s laboratories. The laboratories test for more than 200 pesticides and breakdown products.

In 2009, DPR collected 3,429 samples of more than 180 kinds of produce from wholesale and retail outlets. Most years, including 2009, approximately 1 percent of samples have residues over limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) to protect public health.

DPR selects produce and sampling locations that reflect California’s diverse population. The program targets fruits and vegetables eaten by infants and children and commodities with a history of residue violations. The settlement with Cal Fresco included the following violations:

● Tomatillos collected in July 2010 at a grocery store distribution center in Sacramento and tested positive for chlorpyrifos which is not registered for use on this crop.

● Jalapeno peppers collected in February 2010 at a grocery store distribution center in Roseville and tested positive for azinphos methyl and chlorpyrifos which are not registered for use on this crop.

● Cactus leaf collected in February 2010 at Cal Fresco’s produce distribution center in Buena Park and tested positive for dimethoate which is not registered for use on this crop.

No pesticide residues are detected in the majority of samples tested by the monitoring program. In 2009, for example, approximately 73 percent of samples had no pesticide residues, 24 percent had residues within legal limits and 2 percent had illegal residues. Most of the illegal residues did not pose a health risk because they were at such low levels. (Percentages do not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.)

“The percentage of illegal residues detected on fresh produce sold in California has consistently been low over the years,” Warmerdam said.

“U.S. EPA sets its residue limits with a large safety margin to protect infants, children and other sensitive people.”