2011-2013 Cadmium 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.

The main objectives of the 2011-2013 FSAP cadmium targeted survey were to provide baseline data regarding the presence and levels of cadmium in a defined set of food commodities, and to compare these levels to the previous FSAP and other Canadian surveys and to data reported by other countries, where feasible.

Cadmium is a toxic metal occurring in food as a result of contamination of soil and water from natural sources and human activities. The kidneys, which accumulate cadmium, are considered the primary target organ for cadmium toxicity following chronic dietary exposure. Cadmium has been classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer based on workers exposed occupationally through inhalation. Cadmium readily accumulates in many organisms, notably shellfish, while lower concentrations are found in vegetables and in cereals. In the non-smoking general population, the diet, mainly through the consumption of cereals and vegetables, accounts for approximately 90% of exposure.

For the 2011-2013 FSAP Cadmium survey, a total of 1805 samples were collected from retail stores in 11 Canadian cities. The products were categorized into groups: 813 grain-based foods, 613 vegetable/nut-based foods, and 379 assorted foods. All samples were collected between April 2011 and January 2013.

Overall, 57% of grain-based foods, 72% of vegetable/nut based-foods, and 72% of assorted foods tested positive for cadmium. The cadmium levels detected ranged from 0.002 parts per million (ppm) to 6.401 ppm. The highest average cadmium levels were detected in seaweed products (1.751 ppm) and dried mushrooms (0.682 ppm), and the lowest average levels were detected in pulses (0.014 ppm).

In general, the prevalence of cadmium and the range of observed cadmium levels were comparable between the current and previous FSAP surveys, other Canadian surveys, and data reported by other countries for similar products.

All the data generated were shared with Health Canada for use in performing human health risk assessments. Health Canada determined that the levels of cadmium detected in foods in this survey were not expected to pose a health risk. No product recalls were warranted given the lack of human health concern.

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