(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 28) An annual U.S. Department of Agriculture report on pesticides on fruits and vegetables once again shows that residues are below government tolerances.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service 2011 Pesticide Data Program report also includes a letter explaining the levels of residue pose no health risk.

“Consistent with guidance from health and nutrition experts — and as affirmed federal nutrition guidance that urges people to make half their plate fruits and vegetables — we encourage everyone to continue to eat more fruits and vegetables in every meal and wash them before you do so,” according to the letter.

The new data confirms that pesticide residues in food “do not pose a safety concern for Americans,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the letter.

The USDA’s report has been consistent in its message that pesticide residues shouldn’t be a concern for consumers, said Kathy Means, vice president for government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.

“One of the things that is most important is that government is now offering some context around (the data) and we really appreciate that,” she said.

Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, said Feb. 28 she has observed little consumer media coverage of the USDA report compared to the heavy  media coverage that accompanies the release of the  Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen report.  The latest Dirty Dozen list was released by EWG in June last year.

“We’re just really trying to encourage reporters to read that PDP report before they do the story on the Dirty Dozen list,” she said. The group continues its campaign to educate consumers about the safety of both conventional and organic produce, with the website www.safefruitsandveggies.com as the centerpiece.

In the PDP summary, the agency said sampling was carried out by the AMS in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Samples are selected without regard to country of origin, variety, or organic labeling, according to the report. Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables accounted for 82.3% of total samples collected in 2011, with other samples including water (6.6% of samples collected), milk (5.8%), eggs (2.9%) and soybeans (2.4%). Fresh and processed fruits and vegetables tested in 2011 were samples baby food (green beans, pears, sweet potatoes), canned beets, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, orange juice, papayas, plums, snap peas, canned and frozen spinach, sweet bell peppers, tangerines and winter squash.

According to the USDA, 72.7% of the samples were from the U.S., 22.8% were imports, 3.8% were of mixed origin and 0.7% were of unknown origin.

Excluding water, residues exceeding government established tolerances were detected in 32 of the 11,894 samples. Of those 32 samples, 78% were imported items.