The Use of Sulphites in Fresh Produce

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Purpose

The objective of this document is to provide information to the Canadian fresh fruit and vegetable industry on the use of sulphites and on the importation of produce treated with sulphiting agents.

Background

Recently, a concern was raised that imported exotic produce such as fresh lychee, longan, rambutan and durian are treated with sulphiting agents prior to being exported to Canada.

Sulphites are sulphur-based substances used as preservatives to prevent spoilage and discoloration during storage and distribution of foods. In the fresh produce industry, sulphur dioxide (SO2) gas is commonly used to fumigate table grapes against decay during storage, or is used in packaging material for grapes for slow-emission of SO2 during transportation.

For the majority of consumers, eating products treated with sulphites is safe. However, there is a sulphite-sensitive population, whose symptoms may range from nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhoea to seizures, asthma and even anaphylactic shock.

These symptoms may be severe, life-threatening, and can lead to death.

Regulatory Requirements Concerning the Use of Sulphites in Fresh Produce

Section B.11.001.1 of the Food and Drug Regulations prohibits the sale of  "any fruit or vegetable that is intended to be consumed raw, except grapes, if sulphurous acid or any salt there of has been added thereto."

The only produce officially exempt from this ruling are table grapes and fresh peeled or pre-cut potatoes that are destined for further processing (e.g., to make French fries or potato chips). These potatoes have to be labelled as treated with sulphites for further processing.

Canadian importers and distributors must be aware that once the product is imported and offered for sale in Canada, it becomes their responsibility and legal obligation, under Section 4 (a) of the Food and Drugs Act, to ensure that the food product will not pose a health risk to Canadian consumers.

If the product is found to be in violation of Canadian regulatory requirements, the CFIA will take appropriate action to investigate the issue, with the possibility of removing the adulterated product from the marketplace and advise the public of the hazard associated with that product.

Measures to Prevent Importation of the Illegal Produce to Canada

Before importing the product into Canada, importers should inform their suppliers (foreign and domestic) that the product must comply with Canadian regulatory requirements pertaining to food safety, including the use of sulphites on fresh produce.

Imported produce that is labelled as being treated with sulphites must not be accepted for sale and returned to the country of origin. The exporting party should also be notified of the violation of the Canada's Food and Drug Regulations (B.11.001.1).

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