2013-2014 Coumarin in Dried Beverage Mixes, Breads, Baking Mixes, Spice Mixes, Dried Tea, Baked Goods, and Breakfast Foods

Executive Summary

Targeted surveys are a means used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest risk. Targeted surveys have been incorporated into the CFIA's regular surveillance activities as a valuable tool for generating baseline information on foods and/or hazards that are not addressed by other Agency activities.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to:

  • generate baseline surveillance data on the levels of coumarin in selected domestic and imported cinnamon-containing products available on the Canadian retail market,
  • compare, where feasible, the prevalence of coumarin in foods targeted in this survey with that of similar products in previous surveys on coumarin and the scientific literature.

Coumarin is a natural, fragrant compound found in plants such as cinnamon, tonka beans, and sweet clover. Coumarin was utilized as a flavouring agent in the food and perfume industry for many years until evidence related to its toxicological properties and potential adverse effects to the liver led to its use in food being discontinued or banned in a number of countries, such as Canada and the United States. The direct addition of coumarin to food is not permitted in Canada. It is understood that low exposure to coumarin from natural sources is expected and not anticipated to represent a health concern.

The 2013-2014 CFIA Coumarin survey targeted domestic and imported products containing cinnamon. A total of 749 samples were collected from retail stores in 6 Canadian cities between May 2013 and February 2014. The samples collected included dried beverage mixes, breads, baking mixes, spice mixes, dried tea, baked goods, oatmeal, and adult, children and infant breakfast cereals. All products sampled contained cinnamon in their list of ingredients.

Coumarin was detected in 95% of the survey samples. This is expected, as all products were known to contain cinnamon, and cinnamon is known to naturally contain low concentrations of coumarin. The detected coumarin levels ranged from 0.1 mg/kg to 2510 mg/kg (reported as parts per million in previous reports). The highest concentration of coumarin was observed in a pumpkin pie spice mix sample (2510 mg/kg).

The prevalence and levels of coumarin in product types sampled in the current survey were compared with results in the previous coumarin targeted surveys. The detected coumarin levels in spice mixes, dried tea, and baked goods were comparable to levels reported in previous surveys and scientific literature.

The current as well as the 2011-2012 FSAP survey results were provided to Health Canada. Health Canada determined that the levels of coumarin observed are not expected to pose a concern to human health, therefore no product recalls were carried out.

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