Plant protection product residues in food

Residues of plant protection products in food are admissible up to the legally stipulated maximum residue levels. These maximum residue levels are always set at a low level to rule out any risk to consumers.

Maximum residue levels are trade standards

Maximum residue levels serve as binding trade standards to guarantee the free movement of goods. Food and feed products may only be marketed if they comply with the established maximum residue levels. Those who commercially distribute food products to consumers are under an obligation to guarantee compliance with the maximum residue levels in the foods in question. Trading companies generally perform their own internal quality checks. The official food monitoring authorities of the federal states then conduct wide-ranging monitoring programmes to determine whether the producers comply with the maximum residue levels and whether consumers are therefore adequately protected.

In the "FAQ on plant protection products residues in food", BfR has put together a number of frequently asked questions and answers on plant protection products and on the consequences of residues that exceed these levels.

Tasks of BfR in the assessment of residues

BfR assesses whether a risk to consumers is posed by residues in or on food as a result of the use of plant protection products. Residues in food must be sufficiently low to ensure that there is no risk to the health of consumers either with lifelong daily intake of average quantities of food or with one-time intake of large amounts of the foods in question. For each plant protection product application, BfR evaluates prior to authorisation whether this precondition is met (see "Risk assessment").

BfR also assesses the risk of plant protection product residues in food detected within the context of food monitoring activities. An exceedance of the maximum residue level does not automatically mean that the food in question poses a health risk.

In order to be able to assess the residues of plant protection products measured by the monitoring authorities, BfR needs the following information:

  • Of which components does the residue consist?
  • What toxicological properties do these components possess?
  • Does the residue change when a food is processed?
  • How high is the residue in the food?
  • What amounts of the food in question are consumed?

Based on the concentration of the residue in the food and the amount of the food that is consumed, it is possible to calculate the quantity that a consumer ingests with food (exposure). Consumption quantities are surveyed for German children between the ages of two and four. Due to the comparatively high food intake relative to body weight, this section of the population is particularly sensitive. In addition, the consumption data from the second German National Nutrition Survey II (NVS II) for 14 to 80 year-old consumers in Germany is also used. Assessments on European level make use of additional consumption data from other EU member states and for other population groups.

You can find the consumption data and other information and tools that are of relevance to the assessment process on the page "Consumer safety and residues".

In order to assess the health risk, exposure levels (residue levels) to which the various population groups may be exposed are compared with the health-related limit values. If the expected intake of residues by consumers is lower than the limit values ADI (acceptable daily intake) and ARfD (acute reference dose) derived from toxicological studies, then there is no unacceptable health risk to consumers.

You can find more information on the basics of risk assessment and the derivation of toxicological limit values like the ADI and the ARfD here.



Date Title Size
BfR Opinion No 029/2016
Residual levels of plant protection products in honey do not pose a health risk 23.2 KB


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