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2012-2013 Lead in Candy, Chocolate, Dried Herbs and Spices


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 provide data in order to evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

The diet as a source of lead exposure is documented on the Health Canada web page which states that: "Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in rock and soil, and also has many industrial applications. Due to both its natural occurrence and long history of global use, lead is present in air, water and soil, as well as in food, drinking water and household dust. Levels of lead in the environment have declined significantly over the past few decades due to the discontinued use of lead paint, gasoline, and the solder used in food cans. Since the phase-out of leaded gasoline and the subsequent reduction of airborne lead, food and drinking water are currently the primary sources of lead exposure to adults within the general population."

Lead is not permitted to be added to foods; however, due to its widespread presence in the environment, it is detected in all foods, generally at very low levels. Lead can enter the food chain through various pathways, such as uptake from the soil into plants. Contamination of food could also occur during food manufacturing process (e.g., from the use of inappropriate food storage materials, processing equipment, etc.).

Lead concentrations in meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, fruit and vegetables (processed and fresh), and fresh herbs are monitored annually under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program (NCRMP). The scope of the NCRMP does not routinely evaluate finished and/or manufactured foods, such as candy, chocolate, cocoa powder and dried herbs/spices, for the presence and levels of lead. The main objectives of the current survey were to generate baseline surveillance data on the level of lead in this specific group of commodities available on the Canadian retail market and to compare the prevalence and levels of lead to previous FSAP surveys.

The 2012-2013 FSAP Lead survey targeted domestic and imported candy, chocolate, cocoa powder, dried herbs/spices. A total of 425 samples were collected from grocery and specialty stores in 11 Canadian cities between April 2012 and February 2013. The samples collected included 20 cocoa powder samples, 123 chocolate samples, 148 candy samples and 134 dried herb/spice products.

Of the 425 samples analyzed for lead, 45 (11%) did not contain detectable levels of lead. The remaining 380 samples had lead levels ranging from 0.002 parts per million (ppm) to 4.387 ppm. Currently, no maximum level, tolerance, or standard has been established by Health Canada for lead in the products evaluated as part of this survey, therefore compliance to a numerical standard could not be assessed.

All food sold in Canada must comply with Part 1, Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act. In the case of lead, the Government of Canada recognizes that there can be multiple sources that account for the presence of lead in food. Whether from natural or man-made sources, all food industries are expected to minimize the presence of lead by any and all processes available to them. This is consistent with the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle. Given the wide variety of processes, procedures and sources of raw materials, the means of implementing the ALARA principle will be company-specific.

All the data generated were shared with Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety for use in performing human health risk assessments. The Bureau of Chemical Safety determined that none of the samples analysed for lead in this survey a concern to human health therefore no follow-up actions were needed.

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