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Chemical hazards and potential carcinogens - fact sheets

Limits for chemical residues and contaminants

Generally speaking, maximum residue limits (MRLs), maximum levels (MLs), guidelines, standards and tolerances are limits established by Health Canada to minimize potential health risks to Canadians from excessive exposure to chemical residues and contaminants in foods.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) tests a variety of foods available in Canada for chemical residue and contaminants. When test levels are above the established limits for the food being analyzed, results are referred to Health Canada for a risk assessment. Based on the risk assessment outcome, CFIA makes a final decision on whether further action, such as product seizure or recall, is necessary.

Limits are set at levels far below the amount that could pose a health concern. This is why foods with residues or contaminants over maximum limits can still be safe for consumption. In simple terms, limits can be described as traffic lights. When levels of residues or contaminants exceed limits, the traffic light turns yellow, indicating caution and the need for further assessment. That assessment determines if the food is unsafe (red light) or safe (green light).

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