2011-2012 Coumarin in Cinnamon and Cinnamon-Containing Products

Executive Summary

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

The main objective of this targeted survey was to generate baseline surveillance data on the level of coumarin in cinnamon and cinnamon-containing products available on the Canadian retail market.

Coumarin is a natural, fragrant compound found in plants such as cinnamon, tonka beans, and sweet clover. Coumarin has been utilized as a flavouring/aromatic compound in the food and perfume industry for many years until evidence related to its toxicological properties (namely, adverse health effects in rodents and dogs) led to its use in food being discontinued or banned in a number of countries, such as Canada and the United States. The direct addition of coumarin to food is not permitted in Canada. It is understood that low exposure to coumarin from natural sources is expected and not anticipated to represent a health risk.

The 2011-2012 Coumarin survey targeted domestic and imported cinnamon and cinnamon-containing products. A total of 193 samples were collected from grocery and specialty stores in 11 Canadian cities between April 2011 and March 2012. All products sampled contained cinnamon in their list of ingredients. The samples collected included ground cinnamon, cinnamon sticks, spice mixes (such as pumpkin pie spice, curry mixes, Chinese five spice), breakfast cereals, baking mixes (muffin and cake mixes), baked goods (cookies, granola/breakfast bars), baby foods (such as infant cereals and purées), and dried tea.

Coumarin was detected in 98% of the survey samples. This is not unexpected, as all products were known to contain cinnamon and cinnamon is known to naturally contain low concentrations of coumarin. Unusually high concentrations of coumarin in a product relative to the overall dataset may indicate that coumarin has been directly added to a product, and may highlight the need for more detailed follow-up. This was not observed in any of the products tested in this survey. The highest concentrations of coumarin were observed in ground cinnamon (7816 ppm) and cinnamon sticks (6823 ppm), followed by spice mixes (2014 ppm), tea (1040 ppm), baked goods (95.3 ppm), breakfast cereals (56.7 ppm), baking mixes (45.8 ppm) and baby food (14.9 ppm), respectively. Coumarin concentrations reported in this survey were similar to coumarin levels reported in recent scientific articles. The results were evaluated by Health Canada. None of the samples were determined to pose an unacceptable concern to human health, and no follow-up actions were deemed necessary.

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