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What is Pesticide Residue Analysis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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Pesticide residue analysis is laboratory testing to look for traces of pesticides in samples like prepared foods, water, or living organisms. It is also possible to check for fungicides and herbicides. People may request this testing for quality control or safety reasons, or out of concerns about pesticide contamination. Numerous labs offer this service and use a variety of techniques, depending on the needs of the customer and the pesticides they are hoping to identify.

In pesticide residue analysis, a sample of the material in question can be run through a series of tests to screen for one or more pesticides. The lab technician will prepare a report detailing the findings and discussing their implications. For example, the lab may find traces high enough to suggest a threat to human health or could find very low concentrations indicative of weak contamination.

Pesticides can enter food, living organisms, and the natural environment in a variety of ways. Sometimes, contamination is direct, as when farmers apply chemicals to crops to prevent insect infestations. These chemicals can enter the environment through runoff, potentially hitting the water table and spreading to neighboring farms. This can result in pesticide contamination on farms that do not use these chemicals, or could cause issues like fish kills, where the concentrations of the chemicals in the water rise and make fish sick.

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Food producers may need pesticide residue analysis to fulfill the terms of a contract with a supplier. Some companies want this testing to confirm that food is safe. Even if a farmer does not use pesticides and is committed to food safety, traces of chemicals could be present in the environment and may cause a problem. People can also use it for quality control in locations like production lines, where there may be concerns about contamination when prepared foods contain ingredients from a number of sources.

Environmental scientists can also order testing if they have concerns about pesticides in the environment or want to learn more about epidemics of plant and animal disease. For government agents like representatives of environmental health and safety agencies, it may be possible to perform pesticide residue analysis in a government lab, allowing for rapid processing of questionable material. People can use the results to crack down on polluters, issue public safety warnings, and identify areas where environmental cleanup is necessary. The testing can also be useful for follow-up on cleanup efforts, where pesticide residue analysis can determine if contaminants are still present.

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