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2012-2013 Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Infant Formulas, Meal Replacements, and Nutritional Supplements


The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As a part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to examine various foods for specific chemical and microbiological hazards.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to:

  • expand upon baseline data on the levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in food products that may be used as a sole source of nutrition or as a nutritional supplement by Canadians; and
  • compare these results to the previous (2011-2012) FSAP survey

There are a number of naturally-occurring metals that may be of concern to human health when a certain level of exposure is reached. Most notably, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury have been shown to have effects on human health at elevated levels of exposure. These metals may be present in finished foods due to their presence in the ingredients used to manufacture those foods, and/or may be unintentionally incorporated along the food production chain. Whether from natural or man-made sources, all food industries are expected to minimize as much as possible the presence of metals of concern to human health by any and all processes available to them. This is practiced in accordance with the ALARA (As Low as Reasonably Achievable) principle.

In this survey, meal replacement beverages, nutritional supplement beverages, and infant formulas were examined for the presence of metals that may be of concern to human health. These types of products are meant to supplement and/or act as a complete nutritional source for specific subsets of the population. Infants, children, and the elderly/infirm may be more likely to use single source nutritional products to ensure that their dietary needs are being met.

Two hundred and ninety one samples (144 samples of infant formula, 46 samples of meal replacement beverages, and 101 nutritional supplement samples) were collected from Canadian retail stores between April 2012 and March 2013. Samples were analyzed for the presence of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. All products were tested "as sold", meaning that they were not prepared as per manufacturer's instructions (i.e. as they would typically be consumed).

Infant formulas had very low frequencies of detection and levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. Meal replacements and nutritional supplement beverages generally had higher frequencies and concentrations of detectable metals. In general, the levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury were very consistent between FSAP survey years for infant formulas and meal replacements. Nutritional supplements had slightly higher levels of lead and mercury in the current survey year, potentially due to disparity in product types and/or sample sizes. Health Canada's BCS did not identify concerns for human health based on the results. No product recalls were warranted given the lack of health concern.

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