Consumers" exposure to pesticides in the foods they eat is very low, according to a new study.

Carl Winter, a scientist in the University of California-Davis"s Department of Food Science and Technology, studied the Food and Drug Administration"s 2004-05 Total Diet Study to prepare his research, which appears in the July issue of the International Journal of Food Contamination.

Reports on the extent of consumer exposure to pesticide residue in food often focus on the wrong set of government data, Winter writes in the study. As a result, the threat of pesticides is often overstated.

"Chronic dietary exposure to pesticides in the diet, according to results of the FDA"s 2004–2005 (Total Diet Study), continue to be at levels far below those of health concern," he writes. "Consumers should be encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains, and should not fear the low levels of pesticide residues found in such foods."

Studies should not rely on government residue monitoring programs that focus primarily on the percentages of samples containing pesticide residues and the number of violative residues identified, Winter writes.

"Such an approach does not adequately convey the likelihood of pesticide residues posing consumer risks, since residue regulatory limits are not safety standards, and violative pesticide residues rarely constitute residues of health concern."

Instead, Winter writes, it"s more appropriate to develop estimates of actual dietary exposure to pesticides and to compare such estimates to established toxicological criteria such as the Chronic Reference Dose (RfD), which the FDA"s TDS data provides.

For the FDA study cited by Winter, 77 specific pesticides were detected from market basket samples of 2,240 food items analyzed in 2004 and 2005.

All estimated exposures to the 77 pesticides for the general U.S. population were well below chronic RfD levels.

Only 3 of the 77 pesticides showed exposures greater than 1% of chronic RfDs.

Fourteen showed exposures between 0.1 and 1% of chronic RfDs, and 19 had exposures between 0.01 and 0.1% of chronic RfDs. The remaining 41 pesticides had exposures below 0.01 % of chronic RfDs.