Undeclared Sulphites in Children's Food (2012-2013)

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.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to obtain baseline information regarding the presence and levels of undeclared sulphites in foods that are commonly consumed by children and to identify potential food safety concerns relating to those undeclared sulphites in foods.

Sulphites are used as additives in food products, both as preservatives and to maintain colour. These additives may also be present due to cross-contamination during manufacturing (e.g., a product containing sulphites may contaminate a product that does not contain the compound if both are produced using the same processing equipment). In the past, product recalls have been initiated due to the health risk to sensitive individuals associated with the presence of undeclared sulphites in food. Children represent a susceptible sub-population that may consume food products containing this commonly used food additive. This survey was designed to complement other allergen related targeted surveys that have focussed on foods consumed by children.

A total of 588 baking mixes, baked goods, canned fruit, cereals, cookies, desserts, infant foods, and juice were analyzed for the presence of undeclared sulphites. Of the 20 samples found positive for undeclared sulphites, 13 were cereals, 4 were baking mixes (e.g. cake mixes, muffin mixes), and 3 were baked goods (all ready-to-eat cakes).

All positive samples were followed up by CFIA. Follow-up actions are initiated in a manner that reflects the magnitude of the health concern. Actions may include further analysis, notification to the producer or importer, follow-up inspections, additional directed sampling, a food safety investigation (including a health risk assessment conducted by Health Canada), and recall of products.

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