2012-2013 Sulphites in Imported Fresh Fruit

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 evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

Sulphites can cause an allergic like reaction in sensitive people. In Canada they are not permitted for use on any fresh fruit or vegetable intended to be consumed raw, with the exception of grapes. Sulphites are sulphur-based substances used as preservatives to prevent spoilage and discoloration during storage and distribution of foods. In the fresh produce industry, sulphur dioxide (SO2) gas is commonly used to fumigate table grapes against decay during storage, or is used in packaging material for grapes for slow-emission of SO2 during transportation. CFIA has previously posted a notice to industry on its web site reminding importers that fresh produce such as longan and lychee are not permitted to be treated with sulphiting agents prior to being exported to Canada. This survey aimed to collect data in 2012-2013 to determine the prevalence of sulphites in fresh fruit available in Canada.

The main objectives of the sulphites in fresh imported fruit survey were:

  • to obtain baseline information regarding the presence and levels of sulphites in fresh custard apple, longan, lychee and rambutan fruit, and
  • to identify potential food safety concerns relating to sulphites on fresh custard apple, longan, lychee and rambutan fruit.

The data from this survey provided information on the use and levels of sulphites in the rind and flesh of imported fresh fruit including custard apple, longan, lychee and rambutan. A total of 219 samples of fresh lychee, longan, custard apple and rambutan were analyzed for the presence of sulphites. Overall, sulphites were present in the rind of 148 samples (68%) and the flesh of 16 samples (7%). All of the longan rind samples and 87% of the lychee, 40% of the custard apple and 34% of the rambutan rind samples contained sulphites. Longan had the highest percentage (16%) of samples that had sulphites on the rind and in the flesh, custard apple (4%) and lychee (5%) a smaller percentage of sulphites on the rind and flesh and rambutan had no positives in the flesh.

Positive results were followed up by the CFIA. Follow up actions may involve a food safety investigation, including a health risk assessment conducted by Health Canada and a recall or one of the following: notification to manufacturer/importer and/or additional sampling.

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