2013-2015 Aluminum in Baking Powders, Baking Mixes, Baked Goods, and Breads

Executive Summary

Targeted surveys are used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to provide support for the prioritization of the Agency's activities to areas of greater concern and scientific evidence to address areas of lesser concern. Originally started under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been incorporated into the CFIA's regular surveillance activities as a valuable tool for generating essential information on certain hazards in foods, identifying/characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting/refining human health risk assessments, assessing compliance with Canadian regulations, highlighting potential contamination issues, and promoting compliance.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to:

  • generate baseline surveillance data on the levels of aluminum in selected domestic and imported baked goods, baking mixes, baking powders and breads available on the Canadian retail market, and
  • compare the prevalence and levels of aluminum in foods targeted in this survey to Health Canada's Total Diet Study and to scientific literature, where feasible.

Aluminum occurs naturally in the environment and is the most abundant metallic element in the Earth's crust. The main route of aluminum exposure for humans is from its use in food additives as aluminum-containing food additives. For example sodium aluminum sulphate and potassium aluminum sulphate are each permitted for use as pH adjusters in baking powder and as carriers of benzoyl peroxide which can be used as a bleaching agent in flour production. Other aluminum compounds may be used as emulsifying agents, firming agents, anti-caking agents, and colouring agents.

There are currently no Canadian regulatory limits for aluminum in the commodities targeted with this survey although there are conditions of use set out in Health Canada's Lists of Permitted Food Additives for aluminum and aluminum-containing food additives that may be used in baking powder, flour, and whole wheat flour.

The 2013-2015 CFIA Aluminum survey targeted domestic and imported baking powders, baking mixes, baked goods, and breads. A total of 940 samples were collected from retail stores in 6 Canadian cities between May 2013 and March 2015. The samples collected included 386 baking mixes, 256 breads, 203 baked goods and 95 baking powders. As the samples were picked up at retail, there is no information readily available on the conditions (e.g. temperature, duration) during processing or storage. It is not possible to definitively determine the causes of differences in aluminum levels between product types or within a product type.

Aluminum was detected in 99% of the survey samples. The 934 positive samples had aluminum levels ranging from 0.190 parts per million (ppm) to 34943 ppm. All foods included in the survey are permitted to contain certain aluminum-containing food additives in accordance with Health Canada's Lists of Permitted Food AdditivesFootnote 1. In addition, aluminum occurs naturally in the environment and is expected to be present at low levels in foods. The method of analysis report total aluminum levels but cannot be used to determine the source of the aluminum.

The prevalence and levels of aluminum were comparable with those reported in the scientific literature as well as Health Canada's Total Diet Study.

All aluminum levels were assessed by Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety (BCS). The BCS concluded that the levels detected in this survey were not expected to pose a human health concern. No product recalls were warranted given the lack of a human health concern.

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