Unit 5 Regulatory levels of chemical hazards in foods

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There is a variety of chemical hazards that could enter food. Some of these are unpredictable (e.g. those that are deliberately added), but most of these are controlled at national or international level, mainly by setting maximum legal limits. These limits may vary in some cases depending on the product type and whether it is consumed raw or processed. Particularly, the levels set for infant foods are often much lower than those for the general population (South et al., 2011).

In the EU, the regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 sets the maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs. The table below shows the upper limits of the chemical contaminants included in this module for several common foodstuffs. More foodstuffs with their specific maximum levels of contaminants and detailed information can be found in the annex of the regulation (EC) No 1881/2006.

Foodstuffs
Nitrate (mg NO3/kg)
Lead (mg/kg wet weight)
Cadmium (mg/kg wet weight)
Mercury (mg/kg wet weight)
Chloro-propanol (μg/kg)
Dioxins & PCBs
PAHs (μg/kg)
Fresh spinach
2500 – 3000
Fresh Lettuce
2500 – 4500
Milk
0.02
6.0 pg/g fat
Meat (bovine, sheep, pig, poultry)
0.10
0.05
1.5 – 4.5 pg/g fat
Fish
0.30
0.05
0.50
8.0 pg/g wet weight
2.0
Eggs
6.0 pg/g fat
Molluscs
1.50
1.00
10.0
Cereals, legumes and pulses
0.20
0.10
Vegetables
0.10
0.05
Fruit
0.10
0.05
Soy sauce
20.0
Vegetable oils/fats
2.0
Smoked meats/fish
5.0

Source: Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006

As regards acrylamide in foodstuffs, EU has established benchmark levels which are set in the regulation (EU) 2017/2158 and the most important ones are shown in the table below. More foodstuffs with their specific benchmark levels of acrylamide and more detailed information can be found in the annex IV of the regulation (EU) 2017/2158.

Foodstuff
Benchmark level of acrylamide (μg/kg)
French fries
500
Potato crisps
750
Soft bread
50-100
Breakfast cereals
150-300
Biscuits and wafers
350
Roasted coffee
400

Source: Regulation (EU) 2017/2158