2011-2012 Antimony in Selected Foods

Executive Summary

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 test various foods for specific hazards.

The main objective of this targeted survey was to generate baseline surveillance data on the level of antimony in beverages, seed and nut butters, condiments, and frozen or shelf-stable heat-and-serve meals available on the Canadian retail market.

Antimony is a naturally occurring metal and its levels in the environment have risen due to increased industrial use. Since antimony is not known to fulfill a biological role in the human body, there is growing concern about its effects on humans. Antimony trioxide, used in the manufacturing of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Previous scientific studies have reported the leaching of antimony from packaging, particularly PET plastic, into food or beverage products.

The 2011-2012 Antimony survey targeted domestic and imported beverages, nut and seed butters, condiments, and frozen or shelf-stable heat-and-serve meals. A total of 621 samples were collected from grocery and specialty stores in seven Canadian cities between April 2011 and March 2012. The samples collected were packaged in various materials (i.e., plastic, glass, metal can, and Tetra Pak) and included 397 beverages, 75 seed and nut butters, 75 condiments, and 74 heat-and-serve frozen and shelf-stable meals.

Of the 621 samples analyzed, 609 (98%) did not contain a detectable level of antimony. The remaining 12 samples had a detectable level of antimony ranging from 0.0032 ppm to 0.0199 ppm. It is important to note that this survey cannot distinguish between antimony originating from natural sources, from environmental contamination, and/or leaching from packaging materials. Currently, no maximum level, tolerance, or standard has been established by Health Canada for antimony in food so compliance to a numerical standard could not be evaluated.

All data generated were shared with Health Canada for use in performing human health risk assessments. The antimony levels found in this survey were not considered to pose a concern to human health. Follow up actions could include additional sampling, additional inspections or ultimately the recall of the product from the Canadian market place. Based on the low levels of antimony detected in this survey, no follow-up actions were required for any of the survey samples.

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