2010-2011 Perchlorate in Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Dairy Products and Infant Formulae

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As a part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to test various foods for specific hazards.

The main objective of the perchlorate targeted survey was to generate baseline surveillance data on the levels of perchlorate in infant formulae, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables available on the Canadian retail market.

Perchlorate is a chemical that occurs naturally in the environment (e.g., in some nitrate and potash deposits or formed in the atmosphere). It is also an environmental contaminant originating from industrial processing of rocket propellants, explosives, road flares, fireworks, and car airbags. Since perchlorate readily dissolves in water, it can be taken up and accumulated by plants and may also be transferred to animals through the consumption of perchlorate-contaminated feed or water.

In total, 611 samples, including 433 fresh fruits and vegetables, 89 dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt), and 89 infant formulae, were collected from Canadian retail stores and analyzed for perchlorate. As no maximum level, tolerance, or standard has been established by Health Canada for perchlorate in food, compliance with Canadian regulations was not evaluated in this survey.

Overall, 65% of fresh fruit and vegetable, 87% of dairy product, and 63% of infant formula samples analyzed were found to contain detectable levels of perchlorate in the range of 2 to 540 parts per billion (ppb). Within the commodity types analyzed in this survey, the highest average perchlorate levels were found in cucumbers (48.6 ppb) and tomatoes (44.9 ppb), cheese (5 ppb) and yogurt (4.9 ppb), and soy-based infant formula (16.7 ppb – tested as sold, not as consumed).

The perchlorate levels in dairy products and most fresh fruit and vegetable samples analyzed in this survey were consistent with those reported in the scientific literature. Average perchlorate levels detected in strawberry, cucumber, tomato, and infant formula samples were slightly higher than most of the levels reported in the scientific literature, although in some cases only limited data was available for comparison.

All data generated were shared with Health Canada for use in performing future human health risk assessments. The levels of perchlorate found in this survey were not expected to pose an unacceptable health concern. Additionally, the levels observed are not expected to represent a health concern over a lifetime exposure. No product recalls were warranted given the lack of health concern. As these contaminants are generally addressed under the principle of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable), appropriate follow-up actions such as notification of importer and continuation of the perchlorate targeted survey were initiated based on the results of this survey.

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