2010-2011 Ochratoxin A and Deoxynivalenol in Selected Foods

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 hazards.

This targeted survey focussed on two natural toxins, ochratoxin A (OTA) and deoxynivalenol (DON). Contamination of foods (such as grains and fruit) with these toxins may occur in the field (DON) or during storage of the raw commodities (OTA). As OTA and DON are resistant to heat, processing the affected grains/fruit may not completely remove these toxins, which could result in detectable levels in finished or manufactured food products. OTA has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. DON is not carcinogenic but exposure to very high levels may cause immunosuppressive and gastrointestinal effects.

The main objectives of this survey were to:

  • Establish baseline surveillance data for OTA and DON levels in infant formula, beverages (wine, beer), dried fruit, and grain products (wheat products, corn products, oat products, infant cereals, breakfast cereals)
  • Obtain a snapshot of the OTA levels in these specific commodities relative to Health Canada's proposed maximum levels for OTA
  • Compare the prevalence of OTA and DON in infant foods, beverages, and wheat, corn, and oat products found in 2009-2010 with that in 2010-2011

A total of 943 samples were analyzed for the presence of OTA and DON. These samples included 197 breakfast cereals, 139 wines, 130 beer, 98 infant formulae, 97 dried fruits, 96 wheat products (flour, bran, germ, cream of wheat), 93 infant cereals, 76 corn products (corn/tortilla chips, cornmeal, semolina), and 17 oat products (whole oats, oatmeal).

Sixty-seven percent of the samples (628/943) did not contain detectable levels of OTA. The 315 remaining samples that were found to have detectable levels of OTA were from all classes of products included in this survey. OTA levels ranged from 0.040 ppb (parts per billion) to 6.773 ppb. Overall, 99.2% of the samples tested for OTA were below the Canadian maximum levels proposed for OTA by Health Canada. Five samples of infant cereal, one sample of breakfast cereal, one sample of wheat flour, and one sample of wheat germ exceeded the proposed maximum levels for OTA. The OTA levels in these eight samples were assessed and appropriate follow-up actions were initiated that reflected the magnitude of the human health concern.

Less than half of the samples (388/943 or 41%) did not contain detectable levels of DON. DON was not detected in any of the wine or dried fruit samples. DON levels ranged from 1 ppb to 2060 ppb. There are no Canadian maximum levels established for DON in finished products so compliance could not be evaluated. However, the levels of DON considered elevated were reviewed, and appropriate follow-up actions were initiated that reflected the magnitude of the human health concern.

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