EFSA assesses health risks linked to nicotine in wild mushrooms

EFSA has provided scientific advice to the European Commission on the risks of eating wild mushrooms following reports of nicotine contamination in samples from the 2008 crop of dried wild mushrooms, mainly from China. This follows an urgent request received from the Commission on 27 April.

EFSA evaluated the risks related to the presence of nicotine in fresh wild mushrooms up to 0.5 mg/kg and concluded that this level is not safe. Any effects of eating contaminated wild mushrooms are likely to be mild and would be short term, possibly including increased heart rate, dizziness and headaches. EFSA advised the Commission on risks associated with different levels of contamination in order to help risk managers decide on any appropriate follow-up action.

It is not clear what caused the presence of nicotine in these mushrooms; it could be pesticide use or a number of other factors such as accidental contamination during the drying process.

To help risk managers establish safe levels protecting consumers, EFSA used existing agreed methodology for the setting of maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides in foods. EFSA proposed 0.036 mg/kg as the concentration of nicotine in fresh wild mushrooms that could be acceptable as an MRL[1].

As the assessment was affected by a number of uncertainties and limitations on data available (contamination levels and the consumption of wild mushrooms in Europe), EFSA recommended that the proposed MRL be considered on a temporary basis. The monitoring programme recommended by the Commission will also be useful for deriving a more robust basis for exposure assessment and MRL setting.

[1] Should a MRL be set separately for bulked, dried mushrooms, the highest level of nicotine for dried wild mushrooms which does not lead to exceeding of the acute reference dose would then be 1.17 mg/kg (expressed on dry weight basis).

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