Government tests have found high levels of pesticide on a range of imported fruit and vegetables.
Spinach had high pesticide levels
Tests on imported celery and melons suggested levels did not pose a risk to human health.
However, tests on one sample of spinach indicated it could cause people, particularly children or babies, to become ill.
The audit, carried out by the Pesticide Residues Committee, also identified traces of chemicals in other foods including bread, apples and processed baby food.
Officials tested a sample of spinach purchased from a leading supermarket chain.
They discovered pesticide levels 1.5 times higher than the recommended safety limit for adults and 2.4 times the safe limit for toddlers.
They identified the chemical as methomyl - a pesticide used to control caterpillars.
In these doses, the chemical could trigger stomach upsets or headaches.
The breach was among three found in samples of Spanish spinach. The other two,
although not above safety levels, still exceeded accepted agricultural
We must remain very concerned that supposedly-healthy food contains pesticides which exceed the safety levels for toddlers
Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has contacted the
Spanish authorities urging them to take action.
The tests also identified traces of pesticide on celery imported from the United States, melons from Venezuela and Brazil, and parsley from the UK.
These traces did not breach safety limits but were higher than recommended. However, they were not believed to be enough to cause people to become ill.
The committee also discovered traces of at least one pesticide in a range of food.
26 out of 33 samples of melon;
55 out of 73 samples of bread;
27 out of 36 samples of flour; and
23 out of 48 samples of chips bought at fish and chip shops.
Pesticides were also discovered in six of the 71 samples of infant food analysed, including one labelled as organic.
Dr Ian Brown, chairman of the PRC, said the tests had shown that just a tiny proportion of food sold in the UK contain traces of pesticide.
"These results for the third quarter of
2002, continue to show that less than 1% of samples exceed statutory limits for
"With one exception, the risk assessments undertaken on these commodities did
not give me cause for concern with regard to consumer health."
But Sandra Bell, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the results were a cause for concern.
"Although there is some good news in the latest pesticide results, we must remain very concerned that supposedly-healthy food contains pesticides which exceed the safety levels for toddlers."