2012-2014 Antimony 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 baseline data in order to evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to generate additional baseline surveillance data on the level of antimony in beverages, nut and seed butters, condiments, frozen/shelf-stable heat-and-serve meals, and processed fruit and vegetable products available on the Canadian retail market, and to compare the prevalence and levels of antimony to previous CFIA (FSAP, NCRMP and Children's Food Project) reports.

Antimony is a metal that can be found naturally in the earth's crust and is used widely in a variety of manufacturing processes including production of alloys, batteries, as fire retardants in plastics and textiles, as well as in paints and ceramics, and as enamels for plastics, metals and glass. Specific to the food industry, antimony trioxide is used as a catalyst in the manufacturing of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. Based on inhalation studies in animals, antimony trioxide has been classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer; however, there is insufficient scientific data to determine the potential carcinogenicity of antimony compounds by the oral route of exposure. Scientific studies have reported the migration of antimony from packaging, particularly PET plastic, into food or beverage products. Since antimony is not known to fulfill a biological role in the human body, there has been growing concern about the level of antimony exposure to humans from food packaging sources.

The 2012-2014 antimony survey focused on domestic and imported beverages, nut and seed butters, condiments, frozen/shelf-stable heat-and-serve meals, and processed fruits and vegetable products. A total of 1208 samples were collected from grocery and specialty stores in eleven Canadian cities between April 2012 and March 2014. The samples collected were packaged in various materials (i.e., plastic, glass, metal can, and Tetra Pak).

Currently, no maximum level, tolerance, or standard has been established by Health Canada for antimony in food. None of the samples analyzed in this survey were found to contain a detectable level of antimony. The results of this survey and previously published CFIA results indicates that antimony is rarely found in foods and when found, the levels are very low.

Given that none of the samples analyzed in this survey were positive for antimony, follow-up actions were not required.

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