Aflatoxins in chocolate, cocoa powder, grain-based foods, nuts and nut products, spices and wine – April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015
Food chemistry – Targeted surveys – Final report
Targeted surveys provide information on potential food hazards and enhance the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA's) routine monitoring programs. These surveys provide evidence regarding the safety of the food supply, identify potential emerging hazards, and contribute new information and data to food categories where it may be limited or non-existent. They are often used by the CFIA to focus surveillance on potential areas of higher risk. Surveys can also help to identify trends and provide information about how industry complies with Canadian regulations.
Aflatoxins are a family of mycotoxins (naturally-occurring and toxic secondary metabolites) produced by Aspergillus fungi. Hot, humid conditions and pest damage during plant growth or storage can favour the growth of aflatoxin-producing fungi, leading to the presence of aflatoxins in foods.. This survey targeted chocolate, cocoa powder, grain-based foods, nuts and nut products, spices and wine as these products are most likely to contain aflatoxins.
To look at the levels of aflatoxins present in foods in the Canadian market, the CFIA carried out a retail survey of foods likely to contain aflatoxins. In this report, 1300 products were sampled. Aflatoxins were found in 2% of samples tested and ranged from 1.0 parts per billion (ppb) to 24 ppb. The Canadian maximum level for total aflatoxin in nuts and nut products is 15 ppb and the compliance rate in this survey was 100%. There are currently no limits for aflatoxins in the other commodities examined. All aflatoxin results are reviewed by Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety to determine if aflatoxin levels are harmful to consumers. Levels found in this survey were considered safe for consumption by Canadians and no product recalls were required.
What are targeted surveys
Targeted surveys are used by the CFIA to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest health risk. The information gained from these surveys provides support for the allocation and prioritization of the agency's activities to areas of greater concern. Originally started as a project under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been embedded in the CFIA's regular surveillance activities since 2013. Targeted surveys are a valuable tool for generating information on certain hazards in foods, identifying and characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting and refining health risk assessments, highlighting potential contamination issues, as well as assessing and promoting compliance with Canadian regulations.
Food safety is a shared responsibility. The CFIA works with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments and provides regulatory oversight of the food industry to promote safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. The food industry and retail sectors in Canada are responsible for the food they produce and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling of the food they have in their possession.
Why did we conduct this survey
Aflatoxins are naturally occurring mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus fungiFootnote 1. The 4 main aflatoxins are AFB1, AFG1, AFB2 and AFG2. The B1 form is the predominant and most toxic form of aflatoxinFootnote 2. Short term exposure to high levels of aflatoxins can cause vomiting, abdominal pain and deathFootnote 2. Long term exposure to higher levels of aflatoxins, specifically AFB1, has been linked to liver cancer and liver disease as well as preventing proper growth in childrenFootnote 2. It is important to note that exposure to high levels of aflatoxins is very rare in developed countries.
Aflatoxins can be present in foods such as nuts and nut products, spices, rice, dried foods, grains and cocoa beansFootnote 1. During growth and harvest phases of food, moulds can be produced as a result of hot and humid conditions and pest damage resulting in aflatoxin contaminationFootnote 1. The major route of human exposure to aflatoxins is through the consumption of contaminated foods directly or as ingredientsFootnote 2. This survey provided a snapshot of the levels found in food products that are available in Canada.
What did we sample
A variety of domestic and imported products from the following categories were sampled including: chocolate, cocoa powder, grain based products, nuts and nut products, spices, and wine. Products were sampled from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015. Samples of products were collected from local/regional retail locations located in 6 major cities across Canada. These cities encompassed 4 Canadian geographical areas:
- Atlantic (Halifax)
- Quebec (Montreal)
- Ontario (Toronto and Ottawa)
- West (Vancouver and Calgary)
The number of samples collected from these cities was in proportion to the relative population of the respective areas. Samples were imported from 36 countries.
|Product type||Details||Number of domestic samples||Number of imported samples||Number of samples of unspecified origin Table Note a||Total number of samples|
|Chocolate||Milk/dark chocolate bars, milk/sweet/ semi-sweet/unsweetened/white chocolate chips and baking chocolate||16||66||68||150|
|Cocoa powder||Alkanilized, Dutch process, etc.||0||46||54||100|
|Grain-based foods||Bagels, bread, English muffins, breakfast cereals, infant cereals, oats, and oatmeal||77||77||195||349|
|Nuts and nut products||Almonds and almond butter, Brazil nuts, cashews and cashew butter, chestnuts, hazelnuts/filberts and hazelnut butter, macadamia nuts, mixed nut butters, peanuts and peanut butter, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts||89||62||149||300|
|Spices||Allspice, anise, caraway seeds, cardamom, celery seeds, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry, fenugreek/methi, ginger, mace, mixed spices, mustard seeds, nutmeg, paprika, pepper (black, cayenne, chili), star anise, turmeric||8||53||140||201|
|Wine||Red, rosé, white, sparkling||1||197||2||300|
How were samples analyzed and assessed
All samples were analyzed by ISO/IEC 17025 accredited food testing laboratories The samples were tested for total aflatoxins (sum of AFB1, AFG1, AFB2 and AFG2). All samples are tested "as sold", not prepared according to package instructions.
Currently, there are no Canadian regulatory limits for aflatoxins for the most of the categories of products included in the survey, but Health Canada has determined a maximum level (ML) of 15 ppb for total aflatoxins in nuts and nut products. All aflatoxin results are reviewed by Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety to determine if the levels are harmful to consumers. Levels in this survey were considered safe for consumption by Canadians and no product recalls were required.
What were the survey results
In total, 1300 samples were tested and 1274 or 98% did not contain detectable levels of aflatoxins. Aflatoxin levels in the remaining samples ranged from 1.0 ppb to 24 ppb as presented in Table 2. Aflatoxins were not detected in the samples of chocolate, cocoa products or wine. Average aflatoxin levels were highest in grain-based foods and lowest in spices.
Of the 1300 products tested, 1171 were conventionally grown and 129 were labelled as "organic". The detection rates were 2.0% and 1.6%. respectively, for conventionally grown and organic products. For the conventionally grown products, the levels ranged from 1.0 ppb to 24 ppb, with an average level of 5.5 ppb. For the organic products, the levels ranged from 3.4 ppb to 9.0 ppb, with an average of 6.6 ppb. See Appendix A for a more detailed breakdown of the testing results.
|Product type||Number of samples||Number of samples (%) with detected levels||Minimum (ppb)||Maximum (ppb)||Average Table Note b (ppb)|
|Cocoa powder||100||0 (0)||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Grain-based foods||349||2 (0.6)||3.4||5.1||4.2|
|Nuts and nut products||300||9 (3.0)||1.3||12||3.8|
Chocolate, cocoa powder, and wine
None of the samples of chocolate, cocoa powder, or wine contained a detectable level of aflatoxins. Consult Table 1 for a description of the different types of samples tested.
Nine different product types were tested. Aflatoxins were not detected in samples of bread/bread products (including bagels, English muffins, pita breads, naan, tortillas, buns/rolls, crumpets), breakfast cereals marketed to adults, infant cereals, oat grains or oatmeal. Only 2 samples of breakfast cereals marketed to children had detectable levels of aflatoxins; both cereals contained corn as a principal grain. This is consistent with previous surveys.
Nuts and nut products
This survey included 11 types of nuts and 5 different nut butters. Aflatoxins were not detected in 9 nut types (almonds, cashew nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts/filberts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts), and 1 type of nut butter (cashew butters) did not contain detectable levels of aflatoxins.
A total of 10 nut and nut butter samples contained detectable levels of aflatoxins. This included:
- 3 samples of almond butter (2.2., 4.2 and 4.5 ppb)
- 2 samples of peanut butter (1.4 and 2.8 ppb)
- 1 sample of Brazil nuts (8.3 ppb)
- 1 sample of pecans (12 ppb)
- 1 sample of almond/hazelnut mix (1.3 ppb)
- 1 sample of hazelnut butter (2.0 ppb)
All nuts and nut butters tested in this survey were compliant (100% compliance) with Health Canada's ML of 15 ppb. There is no health risk to consumers from consumption of these products.
This survey included 23 types of spices. Aflatoxins were not detected in 17 types of spices (allspice, anise, caraway seed, celery seeds, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek/methi, ginger, mace, mustard seeds, black pepper, mixed spices, spice – other, or star anise). Aflatoxins were detected in:
- 5 samples of nutmeg (4.1, 10, 10.5, 13.1 and 24 ppb)
- 4 samples of paprika (1.2, 2.3, 2.6 and 8.4 ppb)
- 2 samples of hot/cayenne peppers (1.4 and 2.4 ppb)
- 2 samples of turmeric (2.7 and 5.5 ppb)
- 1 sample of cardamom (9.9 ppb)
- 1 sample of curry powder (1.0 ppb).
What do the survey results mean
Aflatoxins can contaminate foods in the field or in storage; as the samples were obtained at the retail level, no information is available on levels of aflatoxins in newly harvested raw materials nor on the storage conditions. Fungicides can be employed to prevent mold formation; no information is available on whether the samples were treated with synthetic or natural fungicides.
The current survey results were compared to those published in earlier CFIA targeted surveysFootnote 3,Footnote 4,Footnote 5,Footnote 6 and the scientific literatureFootnote 7,Footnote 8,Footnote 9. When comparing the results reported in the current survey to other surveys or scientific literature, the detection rates, maximum observed levels and average concentration are lower than or similar to those reported for all product types, except for average concentration of aflatoxins in grain-based foods. This is likely related to a ten-fold difference in the limit of detection for the 2012 and 2013 surveys relative to the 2010-2012 surveys.
|Product type||Survey author||Number of samples||Number of samples (%) with detected levels||Minimum (ppb)||Maximum (ppb)||Average Table Note c (ppb)|
|Chocolate||CFIA, 2014||150||0 (0)||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Chocolate||Turcotte et al., 2013||39||30 (77)||n/a||0.97||0.22|
|Chocolate||Copetti, 2012||100||73 (73)||<LOD||1.65||0.39|
|Cocoa powder||CFIA, 2014||100||0 (0)||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Cocoa powder||CFIA, 2013||49||1 (2)||n/a||1.4||n/a|
|Cocoa powder||CFIA, 2012||25||0 (0)||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Grain-based foods||CFIA, 2014||349||2 (0.6)||3.4||5.1||4.2|
|Grain-based foods||CFIA, 2013||491||21 (4.3)||1.0||17||3.6|
|Grain-based foods||CFIA, 2012||295||40 (13)||0.10||2.0||0.49|
|Grain-based foods||CFIA, 2011||304||20(6.6)||0.10||1.5||0.45|
|Grain-based foods||CFIA, 2010||285||23 (8.1)||0.10||1.7||0.5|
|Nuts and nut products||CFIA, 2014||300||9 (3.0)||1.3||12||3.8|
|Nuts and nut products||CFIA, 2013||238||13 (5.5)||1.0||24||4.1|
|Nuts and nut products||CFIA, 2012||437||79 (18)||0.10||28||1.8|
|Nuts and nut products||CFIA, 2011||399||55 (14)||0.10||12||1.4|
|Nuts and nut products||CFIA, 2010||253||21 (8.3)||0.1||21||4.1|
|Spices||CFIA, 2014||201||15 (7.5)||1.0||24||3.7|
|Spices||CFIA, 2013||94||15 (16)||1.5||72||14|
|Spices||CFIA, 2012||49||34 (69)||0.10||44||4.0|
|Wine||CFIA, 2014||200||0 (0)||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Wine||Sugita-Konishi et al., 2006||10||6 (60)||0.07||0.72||0.34|
The CFIA survey results support that chocolate, cocoa powder, grain-based foods, nuts and nut products, spices and wine are safe for human consumption. There were no recalls resulting from this survey.
|Product||No of samples||Detection rate (%)||Minimum (ppb)||Maximum (ppb)||Averaged (ppb)|
|Nuts and nut products||269||3.3||1.3||12||4.3|
|Product||No of samples||Detection rate (%)||Minimum (ppb)||Maximum (ppb)||Averagee (ppb)|
|Nuts and nut products||31||0||n/a||n/a||n/a|
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