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Did a pesticide accidentally get on your garden vegetables or fruit? People often want to know "Are they safe to eat?" Unfortunately, the answer is not straightforward. Without knowing what the pesticide is or how much of it got on or in the edible plants, the risks to human health are unknown.

If a pesticide was not used according to the label, the health risks may not have been evaluated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, getting more information about the situation can help you make informed decisions.

Someone sprayed pesticides nearby. How can I tell if they got in my garden?

If you were not around during application, it can be hard to tell if pesticides drifted onto your plants. If you were present when the application happened, did you see pesticide dust or mist land on your plants, or did the plants feel wet following the application? How far away were people applying products? The risk of drift is greater if your next-door neighbor used a pesticide than if your neighbor down the road did. Barriers like hedge rows or fences may also reduce drift.

If you suspect herbicide damage but did not see anyone spraying, consider asking neighbors nearby if they used any herbicides recently. Your County Extension office may be able to diagnose herbicide damage. In some states, pest control companies are required to notify neighbors before they use pesticides. Pesticide applicators may also post signs after applications. If you want to test for pesticides, be aware that laboratories may need to know which active ingredients to test for.

I worked hard on growing my veggies. Can I still eat them?

It can be hard to figure out what to do with the fruits and veggies that you've put time and effort into growing. However, without knowing what or how much pesticide is on/in the edible plants, the risks to human health are unknown. If you know who applied the products, consider asking them for the EPA registration numbers, active ingredients, and/or labels of the products. This will show you the active ingredients involved and if any food uses are permitted by the label. If a pesticide was not used according to the label, the risk of ingesting the impacted plants is unknown. Some pesticides are meant to be used on certain edible plants. However, the risk may increase if more of the product got on the plants than the label allows. People not following pesticide label instructions put plants and the people eating them at risk.

Ultimately, you will have to make your own decision about what to do next based on the information you have, and the level of risk you’re comfortable with. When there is an unknown risk to your plants, refraining from eating them is the only way to completely eliminate risk. Consider avoiding composting contaminated plants to keep residue out of your compost. If you still want to get fresh, local produce but can’t eat the plants you grew, local farmers’ markets may be an alternative.

If you were planning on selling your crop, there are additional considerations. Produce with pesticide residue above the tolerance, or maximum allowed level, cannot be sold. Contact your state's pesticide regulatory agency to report suspected drift.

How long do I have to wait to plant more vegetables in my garden?

If pesticides drifted or were applied onto your garden, you may wonder if you can plant again in the future. It can be helpful to learn more about your garden and the pesticides that drifted onto it. Different active ingredients take different lengths of time to break down. An active ingredient's half-life is how long it will take to break down in the environment. Active ingredient half-lives can vary depending on things like the soil type and weather in your area. Other chemical properties can affect how much pesticide a plant can take up from soil. Call NPIC to discuss your situation in more detail.

How do I protect my garden veggies from pesticide drift in the future?

Regular communication with your neighbors can help you know when they are going to use pesticides. This can allow you to take precautions ahead of time to protect your garden. Contact your state's pesticide regulatory agency to report concerns about drift or suspected misuse of pesticides.

Last updated April 15, 2024

If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email us at npic@ace.orst.edu.