California recently fined six importers for ignoring repeated warnings and selling fresh fruits and vegetables tainted with illegal pesticides.

Implicated commodities include squash, tomatillos, cactus pears, lychees and longan. Fines ranged from $6,000 to $21,000 for the contaminated produce, which was mostly from Mexico and China.

Officials with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation said in a July 28 news release the importers mainly sold the contaminated produce to ethnic minority customers, including retailers. The state repeatedly warned the companies, beginning in 2013.

“These companies were importing and selling produce to stores that primarily cater to California’s ethnic communities. They were given ample opportunities to change their methods but chose not to do so,” DPR director Brian Leahy said in the release.

Quarantined cactus leaves await destruction by California officials after inspectors found residue of illegal pesticides on the imported produce. (Photo courtesy California DPR)

The companies, commodities and fines listed in the department’s July 28 notice:

  • Top Quality Produce Inc., La Puente, Calif., fined $10,000 after inspectors found, on five separate occasions, the company sold produce such as longan imported from Thailand, burdock root imported from Taiwan and lychees imported from China with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold from November 2013 to July 2014.
  • Yi Bao Produce Group, Vernon, Calif., fined $15,000 after inspectors found, on seven separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from China such as ginger, taro root, longan and fragrant pear with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold from March 2013 to September 2014.
  • Primary Export International Inc., San Francisco, fined $9,000 after inspectors found, on five separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from China including longan and lychees with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold from June 2013 to August 2014.
  • Marquez Produce, Los Angeles, fined $21,000 after inspectors found on seven separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico such as cactus leaves, tomatillos and squash with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold from April 2013 to May 2014.
  • La Sucursal Produce Inc., Los Angeles, fined $12,000 after inspectors found, on five separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico such as tomatillos, cactus pears and cactus leaves with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between August 2013 and July 2014.
  • V&L Produce Inc., Vernon, fined $6,000 after inspectors found, on four separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico such as purslane, cactus leaves and Mexican squash with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold from April 2013 to October 2014.

Inspectors found the residue from illegal pesticides during routine monitoring, according to the release. The DPR randomly selects produce from farmers markets, chain stores, distribution centers and other sellers.

Some of the produce from Mexico was contaminated with an organophosphate-based pesticide which was banned by the U.S. more than 30 years ago because of health concerns, according to the release.

DPR inspectors traced tainted produce back to the six import companies and warned them, according to the news release. Subsequent investigations showed that the companies continued to import produce from the same suspect sources and sell the tainted food in California. When illegal pesticide residues were found, DPR immediately ordered the produce destroyed and/or quarantined.

The DPR Pesticide Reside Monitoring Program collects about 3,500 samples, of more than 170 kinds of produce, annually from wholesale and retail stores, farmers markets and other outlets, according to the news release.