2012-2013 Coumarin in Cinnamon and Cinnamon-Containing Products

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 baseline data in order to evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to generate baseline surveillance data on the level of coumarin in cinnamon and cinnamon-containing products available on the Canadian retail market, and to compare the levels of coumarin detected with the results of the 2011-2012 FSAP Targeted Survey on coumarin.

Coumarin is a natural, fragrant compound found in plants such as cinnamon, tonka beans, and sweet clover. Coumarin was utilized as a flavouring agent in the food and perfume industry for many years until evidence related to its toxicological properties and potential adverse effects to the liver (which are based on model studies carried out on rats and dogs) led to its use in food being discontinued or banned in a number of countries, such as Canada and the United States. The direct addition of coumarin to food is not permitted in Canada. It is understood that low exposure to coumarin from natural sources is expected and not anticipated to represent a health risk.

The 2012-2013 coumarin survey targeted domestic and imported cinnamon and cinnamon-containing spice mixes. A total of 93 samples were collected from grocery and specialty stores in 11 Canadian cities between April 2012 and March 2013. All products sampled contained cinnamon in their list of ingredients. The samples collected included ground cinnamon and spice mixes.

Coumarin was detected in 100% of the survey samples. This is expected, as all products were known to contain cinnamon, and cinnamon is known to naturally contain low concentrations of coumarin. Unusually high concentrations of coumarin in a product may indicate that coumarin has been directly added to a product, and may highlight the need for more detailed follow-up. Elevated coumarin concentrations were not observed in any of the products tested in this survey. The highest concentration of coumarin was observed in a ground cinnamon sample (7621 ppm). None of the samples tested for the current survey contained levels of coumarin in excess of levels detected in samples analyzed in the 2011-2012 FSAP survey. Health Canada had indicated that the levels of coumarin observed in this previous survey would not pose an unacceptable concern to human health, therefore this opinion is applicable to the current survey results as well since lower coumarin levels were detected. No follow-up actions were deemed necessary.

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