By: Michael R. Taylor, J.D.
You may have heard something on the news about low levels of a pesticide found in some orange juice products that are a blend of domestic and imported orange juice. Here are three reasons you do not need to worry about the safety of that glass of orange juice you are about to enjoy.
First, in the United States, we have a public health goal to fully protect people from harmful pesticide residues in the food we consume, and we have a system in place to do just that. Before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets “tolerances,” or the maximum level of pesticide residue allowed on a food, it first must determine that the pesticide residue level is safe in food. It is then FDA’s responsibility to ensure that those tolerances are not exceeded on the foods it regulates. If a tolerance has not been set or there is no exemption from a tolerance, companies are responsible for ensuring that their products do not contain pesticide residues.
In this case, FDA recently learned that a company had detected very low levels of the pesticide carbendazim in its own and its competitor’s orange juice products. While carbendazim is used in Brazil and some other countries to protect against a type of mold that grows on orange trees, it is not used in the U.S., there is no EPA tolerance set for it and it is an unlawful pesticide residue. It is also important to note that three quarters of the juice consumed in the U.S. is from oranges that are grown in the U.S. The implicated orange juice from Brazil accounts only for a much smaller proportion.
Second, FDA is testing orange juice products being imported into the United States and will not permit their entry into the U.S. until our testing and analysis confirms that the orange juice product complies with our laws. This means that the orange juice products entering the country from Brazil or anywhere else are safe for consumers. It also serves as a reminder to other food companies not to allow illegal pesticide residues on their products entering the United States.
Third, FDA immediately consulted with EPA, which conducted a risk assessment and found that the levels being reported for orange juice products already in the United States were far below any level that would pose a safety concern. For that reason, FDA determined that a recall of orange juice already on the market is not warranted. However, FDA is testing orange juice products for carbendazim in the U.S. and if we identify orange juice with carbendazim at levels that present a public health risk, we will alert consumers and take the necessary action to ensure that it is removed from the market.
We recognize that from time to time problems in our food safety system occur, particularly with increased globalization. With limited resources, we obviously cannot be everywhere at once. That’s why we target our efforts on those products that pose the greatest risk and act promptly when problems are brought to our attention. In this case, FDA and EPA quickly assessed the health risks and made a decision that protects consumers without creating unnecessary disruptions to orange juice products already on the market.
What does this mean for consumers? Continue to enjoy your orange juice.
Michael Taylor is Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA