Why Test Your Food?

Test for Pesticide / Insecticide on Food, Produce and in Drinking Water

NIDS® Rapid Pesticide Test for Home Use (ACE III-C)



Pesticides are the quintessential double-edged swords of the chemical industry. Their widespread use in the last century has fueled our remarkable ability to produce enough food in abundance to keep pace with population growth that continually reduces available land for farming. It is estimated that every dollar spent on pesticides yields $4 in crops saved(Pimentel et al.). However, such benefits come at a price. Their toxicity and persistence adversely affect human health, the environment, and the ability of future generations to maintain agricultural productivity and food safety. It has been a half century since the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and the birth of the environmental movement it spawned. Within a decade of the book’s release chlorinated hydrocarbons, represented by DDT, were taken off the agricultural market.

As a result of the awareness of ecological issues this seminal book awakened, the use of pesticides has been brought under better control, the more dangerous agents have been outlawed by most countries, improved designs have rendered chemicals less toxic with faster biodegradability, and alternative non-synthetic chemical approaches have been developed such as biological control using natural pheromones to interfere with insect reproduction, microbial pesticides, and genetically modified pest resistant crops. However, the danger of toxic pesticides entering the food supply persists even to this day. The most recent well-publicized episode led to the deaths of 23 children in the Indian state of Bihar after they consumed a school lunch contaminated with the organophosphate insecticide monocrotophos. Click here for INDIA NEWS: Chemical in Indian School Deaths Was Five Times Regular Strength, Experts Say.

Fruit and Vegetable vs. Drinking Water Limits

Allowable limits of pesticides in fruit, produce, water and beverages are predicated on the toxic effects attributable to a single event of exposure to the pesticide. These allowable limits are therefore set at levels much lower than those that can cause morbidity or death when a reasonable amount of that food or beverage is consumed by an adult at a single seating. Using these standards, regulatory agencies can rightfully claim that they have been successful in ensuring the safety of all we eat and drink even though pesticides continue to be found in detectable levels in these consumables. In 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture released the latest Pesticide Data Program Summary for the year 2011 showing that pesticides still contaminate fruits, produce, fish, and water, but the levels are much lower than the established limits.

Although these levels are considered safe, they are safe only insofar as a single exposure will not result in death or morbidity. Long-term chronic exposure to pesticides due to regular consumption of contaminated food and drink is rarely taken into consideration. Various studies have been published linking health problems with chronic exposure to pesticides. These include cancer, depression, neurological disease, and brain anomalies in children prenatally exposed to pesticide. Though some may argue that such risks are faced mostly by those chronically exposed to high levels of pesticide such as farmers, agricultural and chemical workers who come in daily contact with pesticides, there are common sense measures that can logically be taken to reduce the general public’s levels of chronic exposure.

Additional caution is required when determining what levels of pesticide are safe since regulatory agencies differ from country to country in allowable levels and maximum tolerated levels are higher in food and produce compared to those for drinking water. For example, a study of pesticide levels in fruit-based drinks makes this point very clear: “The concentration levels detected (in drinks) were of the micrograms per liter level, low when considering the European maximum residue levels (MRLs) set for fruits, but very high (i.e., 300 times) when considering the MRLs for drinking or bottled water.”

Pesticides in the Wine Industry

Pesticides continue to be a concern for the wine industry. A random sampling and analysis of wines sold within the European Union performed in 2008 by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) uncovered 34 of 34 conventional wine bottles contaminated with various pesticides at µg/L levels. Of 6 organic wines, one contained detectable levels of pesticide. Most of the pesticides found were synthetic fungicides, organophosphates and carbamates known to be carcinogens, developmental or reproductive toxins, neurotoxins, or endocrine disruptors.

The grapes used for these wines are the likely source of these pesticides as grape growers, who continue to use synthetic chemicals including carbamates and organophosphates to control mildew and insect pests, have no means to routinely determine if grapes contain pesticides prior to processing them into wine. The pesticide content of wine is undiscovered until tested as a final product by a regulatory agency. As a consequence, wine exporters have been forced to dump barrels of their product found to contain excessive levels of pesticide.

These economic losses can be avoided if there is an affordable and rapid method to detect pesticides at the beginning instead of at the end of the wine production process. Grapes can be qualified as having low or undetectable levels of pesticide prior to their conversion into wine. The issue of pesticides in wine can therefore be eliminated altogether by the employment of a rapid on-site test such as the NIDS® ACE test to determine pesticide levels in grapes before actual wine production commences.

Pesticides in Produce

Based on the USDA annual Pesticide Data Program Summary, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer health advocacy organization published their “Dirty Dozen Plus™” 2012 list of fruits and vegetables found to contain the highest levels of pesticides. They are listed below:
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet bell peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Nectarines-imported
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Blueberries
  12. Potatoes
  13. Green beans
  14. Kale/Greens
A Danish study reported in August 2013 that fruit and vegetables imported from other countries had higher levels of pesticides than local produce. Up to 82% of foreign fruit contained pesticides and 2.6% of foreign produce showed residue levels above the European Union’s maximum residue limits (MRLs).Consumers and the agencies set up to protect them can use a rapid on-site test such as the NIDS® ACE test (link to the movie and product) to screen produce destined for their tables for pesticides.


Pesticides in Fruit-Based Beverages

A similar problem exists in the juice and soft-drink industry. A similar study conducted by Spanish scientists in 2008found pesticides in 100 fruit-based drinks from 15 different countries (Garcia-Reyes et al). They tested for pesticides such as carbendazim, thiabendazole, and imazalil, and malathion, which are applied to crops post harvest and can remain on fruits and vegetables during processing. They found relatively large concentrations of pesticides, in the micrograms per liter range, in most of the samples analyzed. This has raised concerns with the possible impact of chronic pesticide exposure on the health of children who regularly consume these drinks. A recent news ABC news report uncovered similar levels of contamination in orange juice processed using fruit from Brazil.
The problem of pesticide contamination of fruit-based beverages can also be addressed at the beginning of the processing chain at the grower site by the employment of a rapid on-site test such as the NIDS® ACE test to detect pesticide in fruit prior to beverage production.

Effects of Pesticides on Human Health

Organophosphate and Carbamate pesticides are widely used due to their effectiveness in controlling insect pests that prey on fruit and vegetable crops. Bountiful harvests have a direct correlation with the well-managed use of these protective pesticides. However, exposure to high doses of these compounds can be toxic to humans and can cause in the short term death and severe illness. Long term chronic exposure can also lead to persistent health problems such as cancer, depression, and other diseases. Regulatory agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have enacted strict regulations that allow only very low levels of pesticide residues on the food that we eat. Nevertheless, enforcement can never be 100% and fruits, vegetables, and drink products imported from many foreign countries where pesticide use is not similarly well-regulated, increase the consumer’s risk.
Medically significant exposure to pesticides can be classified into high dose exposures and chronic low dose exposures. In the following sections, we discuss what happens when one suffers from each type of exposure.

High Dose Exposure

When one is exposed to high levels of pesticide near or above the human lethal concentration, the possible immediate effects are as follows:
  • Nausea
  • Loss of muscle control, convulsions, paralysis
  • Uncontrolled urination and defecation
  • Heart arrest
  • Death
If the person survives the exposure, the symptoms subside within days or weeks with treatment. There is a very low probability that the average consumer may suffer such high dose exposure, although incidents such as the poisoning deaths of 22 schoolchildren in India in 2013 still occur where the lack of awareness and regulatory enforcement exists.

Chronic Low Dose Exposure

Observations in Laboratory Animals

Chronic exposure of laboratory animals to low, non-toxic doses of organophosphates have caused neuropathic disorders in laboratory animals (Ray and Richards, 2001). Therefore, even doses too low to produce any signs of the toxic effects of these compounds can affect the nervous system in the long term if the exposure is chronic.

Pesticides and Depression

Chronic low dose exposure to organophosphate pesticides has been linked to depression in humans. Several studies have revealed a strong correlation between chronic organophosphate pesticide exposure and anxiety and depression among pesticide applicators (Salvi et al, 2003; Beseler et al, 2006, Beseler et al, 2008).  Depression among spouses of applicators exposed to high doses of pesticide was significantly elevated as well.

Pesticides and Prenatal Development

Prenatal exposure to an organophosphate pesticide has been linked to abnormal brain development in children (Rauh et al, 2012).

Pesticides and Cancer

Low level chronic exposure to pesticides has also been associated with significant cancer risk (Viel et al, 1998 and Alavanja et al., 2013). Organophosphates have been linked to leukemia and other immunologically related cancers.

Pesticides and Diabetes and Obesity

Emerging research is showing that low level, non-symptomatic exposure of neonatal rats to organophosphate pesticides during a critical developmental window results in prediabetic conditions in the exposed animals. These animals also gained excessive weight in adulthood, symptomatic of obesity (Slotkin, 2011).

Pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease

Recent news have highlighted the link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease:
Epidemiological studies support the association between pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease. (Kamel, 2013)

Pesticides and Alzheimer’s Disease

Lower cognitive performance was observed among elderly human subjects who had been occupationally exposed to pesticides (Baldi et al, 2003). A brief summary of the risks can be found here:

Mysterious Symptoms that Linked to Pesticide

Sometimes people have mysterious allergy symptoms. This may indicate that your food has been contaminated by pesticide. Check the following table to see if you have similar symptoms.


Any of the following:


Any of the mild symptoms, plus any of the following:



Any of the mild and moderate symptoms, plus any of the

·  irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin

·  headache

·  dizziness

·  loss of appetite

·  thirst

·  nausea

·  diarrhea

·  sweating

·  weakness or fatigue

· restlessness

·  nervousness

·  changes in mood

·  insomnia

·  excessive salivation

·  coughing

·  feeling of constriction in throat and chest

·  abdominal cramps

·  blurring of vision

·  rapid pulse

·  excessive perspiration

·  profound weakness

·  trembling

·  motor incoordination

·  mental confusion

·  vomiting

·  inability to breathe

·  extra phlegm or mucous in the airway

·  small or pinpoint pupils

·  chemical burns on the skin

·  increased rate of breathing

·  loss of reflexes

·  uncontrollable muscular twitching

·  unconsciousness

·  death


  • Beseler, CL, L Stallones, JA Hoppin, MCR Alavanja, A Blair, T Keefe and F Kamel. 2008. Depression and pesticide exposures among private pesticide applicators enrolled in the Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives online September 9
  • EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Food http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/
  • Garcia-Reyes JF, Gilbert-Lopez B and Molina-Diaz A. Determination of Pesticide Residues in Fruit-Based Soft Drinks.Analytical Chemistry, 80: 8966 (2008) DOI: 10.1021/ac8012708
  • Pesticide Action Network (Europe). Message in a Bottle, Results of pesticide analysis of 40 bottles of wine bought in the EU (2008)
  • Pimentel, David, H. Acquay, M. Biltonen, P. Rice, and M. Silva. Environmental and Economic Costs of Pesticide Use. BioScience 42:750-60 (1992)
  • Rauh VA, Perera FP, Horton MK et al. Brain anomalies in children exposed prenatally to a common organophosphate pesticide. PNAS Early Edition (2012) http://www.pnas.org/content/109/20/7871
  • Viel JF, Challier B, Pitard A, Pobel D. Brain cancer mortality among French farmers: the vineyard pesticide hypothesis. Arch Environ Health 53:65-70 (1998)
  • USDA Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary Calendar Year 2011 http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=stelprdc5102692
  • Food Quality News, 21 August 2013. Pesticides found at higher levels in foreign fruit and vegetables according to a Danish study
  • Alavanja MCR, Ross MK, Bonner MR. Increased Cancer Burden Among Pesticide Applicators and Others due to Pesticide Exposure. CA Cancer J Clin 63:120-142 (2013)
  • Baldi I, Lebailly P, Mohammed-Brahim B, Letenneur L, Dartigues J-F, Brochard P. Neurodegenerative Diseases and Exposure to Pesticides in the Elderly. Am. J. Epidemiology 157: 409-414 (2003)
  • Beseler, CL, L Stallones, JA Hoppin, MCR Alavanja, A Blair, T Keefe and F Kamel. Depression and pesticide Exposures in Female Spouses of Licensed Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study Cohort. J Occup Environ Med. 48: 1005–1013 (2006)
  • Beseler, CL, L Stallones, JA Hoppin, MCR Alavanja, A Blair, T Keefe and F Kamel. Depression and pesticide exposures among private pesticide applicators enrolled in the Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives 116:1713-1719(2008)Environmental Health Perspectives online September 9
  • Kemal F. Paths from Pesticides to Parkinson’s. Science 341:722-723 (2013)
  • Rauh VA, Perera FP, Horton MK et al. Brain anomalies in children exposed prenatally to a common organophosphate pesticide. PNAS Early Edition (2012) www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1203396109
  • Ray DE and Richards PG. The potential for toxic effects of chronic, low-dose exposure to organophosphates. Toxicol Lett.120:343-51 (2001)
  • Salvi RM, Lara DR, Ghisolfi ES, Portela LV, Dias RD, Souza DO. Neuropsychiatric Evaluation in Subjects Chronically Exposed to Organophosphate Pesticides. Tox Sciences 72:267-271 (2003)
  • Slotkin, TA. Does early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides lead to prediabetes and obesity? Reproductive Toxicology 31: 297-301 (2011)
  • Viel JF, Challier B, Pitard A, Pobel D. Brain cancer mortality among French farmers: the vineyard pesticide hypothesis. Arch Environ Health 53:65-70 (1998)