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 examine various foods for specific hazards.

This targeted survey focussed on a natural toxin, deoxynivalenol (DON), which can contaminate grains in the field. DON is not carcinogenic, but exposure to very high levels may cause immunosuppressive and gastrointestinal effects. As DON is resistant to heat, finished foods may still contain detectable levels of DON despite being substantially processed.

The main objectives of this survey were to:

  • establish baseline surveillance data for DON levels in infant formula, beer, dried fruit, soy products, and grain-based products (wheat products, corn products, oat products, milled products of less commonly consumed grains, infant cereals, breakfast cereals, breads, baked goods and crackers); and
  • compare the prevalence of DON in infant formula, beer, dried fruit, and grain products found in 2011-2012 with the prevalence found in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 CFIA FSAP OTA/DON surveys, where feasible.

A total of 1391 samples were analyzed for the presence of DON. These samples included infant foods (98 infant formulas, 59 infant cereals), milled grain products (126 "other grain" products (e.g., quinoa, buckwheat), 102 wheat products, 73 corn products, and 32 oat products), processed grain-based products (193 breads/baked goods/crackers, 255 breakfast cereals, 150 beer) and other foods (198 soy products, 105 dried fruits).

Thirty-seven percent of the samples tested for DON did not contain detectable levels. The samples with detectable levels of DON were from all types of products sampled in this survey, except for dried fruits. DON levels ranged from 1.0 ppb to 2460 ppb. There are no Canadian maximum levels established for DON in finished products, so compliance to a numeric standard could not be evaluated.

All the data generated were shared with Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety for use in performing human health risk assessments. Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety concluded that the levels of DON found in the foods included in this survey were low overall and that short-term exposure to elevated levels of DON in the limited number of samples that were identified in this survey are not expected to pose a safety concern. As such, no follow-up activity was required.

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