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Contaminants are chemical substances that have not been intentionally added to food or feed. These substances may be present in food as a result of the various stages of its production, processing, or transport. They also might result from environmental contamination. Contaminants may pose a risk to animal and human health.
EFSA carries out risk assessments on a wide range of chemicals that can be present in food and feed due to food production, distribution, packaging or consumption, as well as those that might be present in the environment naturally or as a result of man-made activity. This work is carried out by EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain.
The Authority also collects occurrence data on contaminants in food and feed and supports the coordination of data collection and monitoring by Member States.
Metals are an important group of contaminants that occur naturally but are usually present in food and feed as a result of human activity.
EFSA gives scientific advice and carries out risk assessments, as well as data collection and monitoring activities and other technical assistance on chemicals in food and feed. European Union risk managers use this advice and support to help them in making decisions about the safety of these substances for human, animal and plant health.
Since contamination generally has a negative impact on the quality of food and may imply a risk to human health, the EU has taken measures to minimise contaminants in foodstuffs.
Measures exist for the following contaminants: mycotoxins (aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, fusarium-toxins, patulin), metals (cadmium, lead, mercury, inorganic tin), dioxins and PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 3-MCPD and nitrates).
The main EU legislation in this area is:
- Regulation 315/93/EEC on procedures for contaminants in food – EUR-Lex
- Regulation 1881/2006 on Maximum levels for certain contaminants in food – EUR-Lex
The European Commission has published a factsheet on food contaminants:
- Managing food contaminants: how the EU ensures that our food is safe – European Commission