2011-2013 Mercury 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 generate data in order to evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that can be present in the environment through natural sources such as volcanoes, soils, undersea vents, and mercury-rich geological zones. It can also be released through human activities like combustion and industrial processes (such as coal-fired power generation, mining, smelting, and waste incineration). The use of mercury in batteries, fluorescent tube lighting, thermometers, and other manufactured items is also a source of mercury release into the environment.

Mercury is considered a global contaminant due to its toxicity, its ability to persist in the environment, and its ability to be transported long distances within the atmosphere.

The main objectives of the 2011-2013 Mercury in Selected Foods Targeted Survey were to:

  • establish baseline information on mercury levels in specific commodities, namely beverages/juices, dried tea, and other products containing sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners.
  • compare current survey results with those obtained in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 CFIA Mercury Surveys to assess year-to-year variability, when commodity types have been repeated.

A total of 958 samples were collected from 11 cities across Canada between April 2011 and March 2013. Samples consisted of beverages/juices, dried teas, syrups/toppings, and other products that contained sweeteners.

Overall, 58% of the samples tested did not contain any detectable level of mercury. Of the remaining 42% of samples containing measurable levels of mercury, dried teas had the highest prevalence of mercury (96% of dried tea samples contained a detectable level of mercury), and also exhibited the highest concentration of mercury observed in any of the samples tested (0.0565 parts per million). Syrups/toppings and the "other sweetened products" categories exhibited 25% and 12% detection rates, respectively. With the exception of one topping sample, there appeared to be consistently low levels of mercury detected in syrups/toppings and in other sweetened products. Beverages/juices contained the lowest prevalence of detectable mercury, with only 2% of samples containing detectable levels.

Comparison of samples common to the current and previous CFIA Mercury Surveys showed that when the analytical parameters were similar, both the prevalence and levels of mercury detected in dried tea, corn syrup and soft drinks were relatively consistent.

There are currently no mercury guidelines or tolerances established in Canada for the commodities tested in this survey. Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety assessed the data collected for this targeted survey and found that the mercury concentrations reported are not expected to pose an unacceptable health risk. No product recalls were warranted given the lack of a health concern.

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