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Pesticides and Metals in Beverages - April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016

Food chemistry – Targeted surveys - Final report

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Targeted surveys provide information on potential food hazards and enhance the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA's) routine monitoring programs. These surveys provide evidence regarding the safety of the food supply, identify potential emerging hazards, and contribute new information and data to food categories where it may be limited or non-existent. They are often used by the Agency to focus surveillance on potential areas of higher risk. Surveys can also help to identify trends and provide information about how industry complies with Canadian regulations.

The availability of a wide variety of beverages, such as bottled water, tea, coffee, juice, wine and beer is continuously increasing to meet consumers' demandsFootnote 1,Footnote 2. These beverages are products of agricultural commodities and may contain pesticide residues introduced from the environment or if the crops were treated with pesticides in the field, during transport and/or during storage to prevent damage from insects, moulds or other pests. These beverages may also contain levels of metals from environmental sources. Though metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are not permitted to be added to foods, and manufacturers are responsible for measures aimed at reducing accidental introduction of these elements in foods (for example, from lead solder in steel equipment), their presence is expected in foods, at very low levels, primarily as a result of their natural presence in the environment.

A total of 1355 samples of beverages were collected from retail locations in six cities across Canada and tested for pesticides and metals. Residues of 174 different pesticides were detected, in 854 (63%) of the samples. The overall compliance rate for pesticides in beverages was 92%. There were 357 non-compliant results occurring in 114 tea samples. Health Canada (HC) determined the levels of pesticides in beverages observed in the current survey are not expected to pose a concern to human health, therefore there were no recalls resulting from this survey. CFIA conducted appropriate follow up activities which included further testing of similar products in subsequent years and working with the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada to improve compliance.

Only the results for the metals of highest concern to human health (arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead) are included in this report. Mercury and cadmium had the lowest and the highest prevalence, respectively. Of all product types sampled, tea was the commodity with the highest detected content of these metals. It should be noted that the levels were measured in dried tea leaves and not in brewed tea. In all the ready-to-serve samples, the levels of lead and arsenic met HC's proposed maximum levels in fruit juice, fruit nectar, beverages when ready-to-serve and water. There are no regulations in Canada for metal levels in the other products tested. HC determined that none of the samples analyzed for metals in this survey posed a concern to human health.

What are targeted surveys

Targeted surveys are used by the CFIA to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest health risk. The information gained from these surveys provides support for the allocation and prioritization of the Agency's activities to areas of greater concern. Originally started as a project under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been embedded in our regular surveillance activities since 2013. Targeted surveys are a valuable tool for generating information on certain hazards in foods, identifying and characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting and refining health risk assessments, highlighting potential contamination issues, as well as assessing and promoting compliance with Canadian regulations.

Food safety is a shared responsibility. We work with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments and provide regulatory oversight of the food industry to promote safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. The food industry and retail sectors in Canada are responsible for the food they produce and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling of the food they have in their possession.

Why did we conduct this survey

Chemical hazards in foods can come from a variety of sources. Pesticides may be present as contaminants in the environment or they may be deliberately used by farmers to protect food and crops from pests. Different pest pressures and climatic conditions in food export countries may result in the potential use of pesticides that are not approved for use in Canada, or result in pesticide residues in products that do not meet established Canadian maximum residue limits (MRLs) to be legally sold in CanadaFootnote 3.

Metals are naturally-occurring elements that may be present in very low amounts in rock, water, soil, or air. Therefore, finding these substances in food products is not unexpected as trace levels generally reflect normal accumulation from the environment. They may be present in finished foods due to their presence in the ingredients used to manufacture those foods, and/or may be unintentionally incorporated along the food production chain. Only the results of the metals of highest concern (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury) are presented in this report.

Inappropriate use of pesticides may pose a health risk to consumers, with the risk dependant on the type of pesticide, the concentration of the pesticide, how the human body interacts with it, and the length of exposure to the pesticide by the consumer. Metals of highest concern to human health include arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury and these have been shown to have effects on human health following long term exposure. The human health effects depend on the metal, its concentration in the food, and other possible exposure effects/sources.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to generate additional baseline surveillance data on the level of pesticide residues and metal levels in beverages not routinely monitored under other CFIA programs, available on the Canadian retail market, and to compare, the prevalence of pesticides in foods in this survey with that of previous targeted surveys.

What did we sample

A variety of domestic and imported beverages including coffee, juice, tea, water, other shelf-stable beverages and alcoholic beverages (wine and beer) were sampled between August 1, 2015 and March 21, 2016. Samples of products were collected from local/regional retail locations located in 6 major cities across Canada. These cities encompassed four Canadian geographical areas: Atlantic (Halifax), Quebec (Montreal), Ontario (Toronto, Ottawa) and the West (Vancouver, and Calgary). The number of samples collected from these cities was in proportion to the relative population of the respective areas. The shelf life, storage conditions, and the cost of the food on the open market were not considered in this survey.

Table 1. Distribution of samples based on product type and origin
Product type Number of domestic samples Number of imported samples Number of samples of unspecifiedTable Note a origin Total number of samples
Beer 13 64 20 97
Beverage 58 117 50 225
Coffee 29 58 19 106
Juice 122 78 92 292
Tea 26 286 50 362
Water 72 67 34 173
Wine 18 82 0 100
Grand total 338 752 265 1355

Table Notes

Table Note a

Unspecified refers to those samples for which the country of origin could not be assigned from the product label or available sample information

Return to table note a  referrer

How were samples analyzed and assessed

Samples were analyzed by an ISO 17025 accredited food testing laboratory under contract with the Government of Canada. See Appendix A for a list of the pesticides analyzed. The results are based on the food products as sold and not necessarily as they would be consumed.

Pesticide MRLs are established by Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of HC and appear in their MRL databaseFootnote 3. Pesticide MRLs apply to the specified raw agricultural commodity as well as to any processed food product that contains the commodity unless otherwise specified. According to section B.15.002 of the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR), in the absence of a specific MRL, residues of a pesticide or other agricultural chemical must not exceed the general MRL of 0.1 ppm.

Contaminants and other adulterating substances in foods have regulatory maximum levels. In 2014 HC proposed regulatory tolerances for arsenic and lead in a variety of ready-to-serve beverages, and proposed further changes in 2017Footnote 4,Footnote 5. Compliance is assessed against the established tolerances available when the survey was carried out. In the absence of a specific maximum level, the levels of arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead may be assessed by HC on a case-by-case basis using the most current scientific data available.

What were the survey results


A total of 1355 samples of domestic and imported beverages were tested for over 400 pesticides in this targeted survey. Pesticide residues were not detected in 501 (37%) samples. In the remaining 854 samples, residues of 174 different pesticides were detected. A summary of the pesticide results by each product type can be seen in Table 2.

The percentage of samples with pesticide residues detected ranged from 5% in bottled water to 94% in wine. Bifenthrin, imidacloprid and acetamiprid were the most frequently detected pesticides. All product types had a compliance rate of 100% except for tea which had a 69% compliance rate. It should be noted that dried tea samples were analyzed as sold and not brewed, therefore should not be compared to ready-to-serve beverages.

All of the non-compliant pesticide residues in tea were associated with exceeding the general MRL of 0.1 ppm. Compliance was assessed against the established MRLs (10) available when the survey was carried out. Canadian MRLs had not been established for other pesticides in tea at the time. The average amount of residue detected in the non-compliant samples was 0.33 ppm (mg/kg).

Many of the non-compliant tea samples contained more than one non-compliant pesticide residue. There were 357 non-compliant results associated with the 114 non-compliant tea samples. Most (68%) of the non-compliant samples had one to three non-compliant pesticide residues. The remaining non-compliant samples contained three to a maximum of ten non-compliant residues. Acetamiprid and imidacloprid were the pesticides with the greatest number of non-compliant results.

Specific MRLs for some (6/42) of the pesticides detected in these commodities were recently established by the PMRA. Applying the new MRLs would reduce the number of non-compliant samples to 109 (30%) and non-compliant pesticide residue results to 251.

Table 2. Results of pesticide testing in beverages
Product type Number of samples Number (percentage) of samples with detected pesticide residue(s) Number (percentage) of samples with no detected pesticide residue(s) Number of non-compliant residue result(s)/number (percentage) of non-compliant samples
Beer 97 73 (75%) 24 (25%) 0
Beverage 225 69 (31%) 156 (69%) 0
Coffee 106 100 (94%) 6 (6%) 0
Juice 292 227 (80%) 57 (20%) 0
Tea 362 276 (76%) 86 (24%) 357/114 (31%)
Water 173 8 (5%) 165 (95%) 0
Wine 100 94 (94%) 6 (6%) 0
Grand total 1355 854 (63%) 501 (37%) 357/114 (8%)


All 1355 samples were also analysed for arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. Most (71%) of the survey samples contained one or more metals, while 32% of the samples contained traces of all four toxic metals.

Table 3. Detected levels of metals in beverages
Product type Number of sam-
% pos for arsenic Average level (range) of arsenic (ppm) % pos for cadmium Average level (range) of cadmium (ppm) % pos for lead Average level (range) of lead (ppm) % pos for mercury Average level (range) of mercury (ppm)
Beer 97 45 0.008
2 0.0012
11 0.0017
0 <LOD
Beverage 225 17 0.010
12 0.0026
14 0.0054
7 0.0002
Coffee 106 91 0.012
98 0.0050
100 0.0166
96 0.0003
Juice 292 34 0.009
25 0.0030
58 0.0053
9 0.00015
Tea 362 97 0.112
100 0.0614
100 0.9527
93 0.0074
Water 173 24 0.008
2 0.0007
6 0.0026
7 0.00016
Wine 100 30 0.008
10 0.0009
98 0.0115
0 <LOD

<LOD = Below the limit of detection (0.0001 - 0.0004 ppm, depending on the laboratory)

Note: Average values were calculated using only results for samples with quantifiable metal levels

Table 3 illustrates the level of these metals found in the products tested. Mercury and cadmium had the lowest and the highest prevalence, respectively. None of the beer and wine samples contained measurable amounts of mercury. Tea was associated with the highest average level of metals observed, followed by coffee. Oolong and white tea had the highest average content of these metals. Average levels of the metals found in different types of ready-to-serve beverages were alike. The detection rate was highest for lead in wine (98%).

In all the ready-to-serve beverage samples, the levels of lead and arsenic met HC's proposed maximum level. There are no regulations in Canada for metal levels in the other products tested. HC determined that none of the products posed a health risk to consumers.

What do the survey results mean

In comparison to previous survey years, the detection rates for pesticides in various types of non-alcoholic beverages were consistent, with the exception of coffee (Table 4). In this 2015 to 2016 survey, 89% of coffee samples contained a quantifiable amount of bifenthrin. In 2012 the European Commission established new maximum residue levels for bifenthrin for certain products including coffeeFootnote 6. An increase in the detection rate due to its wider use since that time is not unexpected.

Table 4. Pesticide testing results in non-alcoholic beverages from various survey years
Commodity Survey year Number of samples Number (percentage) of samples with detected pesticide residue(s) Number of non-compliant residue result(s)/number (percentage) of non-compliant samples
Coffee 2015-2016 140 113 (81%) 0
2010-2011Table Note b 297 2 (1%) 0
Juice 2015-2016 292 227 (80%) 0
2012-2013Table Note c 965 661 (68%) 0
2011-2012Table Note d 255 173 (68%) 0
2010-2011 510 291 (57%) 2/2 (0.5%)
Juice concentrates 2008-2009Table Note e 186 40 (22%) 0
Tea 2015-2016 362 276 (76%) 357/114 (31%)
2011-2012 259 202 (79%) 152/83 (32%)
2010-2011 267 172 (64%) 138/66 (25%)
2009-2010Table Note f 100 69 (69%) 84/41(41%)

Table Notes

Table Note b

2010-2011 Pesticides in Coffee, Fruit Juice and Tea. (2014). Canada. Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Return to table note b  referrer

Table note c

National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program: 2012-2013 Report. (2014). Canada. Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Return to table note c  referrer

Table note d

2011-2012 Pesticides and metals in tea and juices. [unpublished results]. Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Return to table note d  referrer

Table note e

2008-2009 Pesticides Residues and Metals in Fruit Juice Concentrates. (2014). Canada. Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Return to table note e  referrer

Table note f

2009-2010 Pesticide Residues and Metals in Dried Tea. (2014). Canada. Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Return to table note f  referrer

The compliance rate for pesticides in tea samples (69%) was comparable to previous survey years (59 to 75%). As observed in previous surveys, oolong tea contained the highest number of non-compliant residue levels (165 in 45/67 samples). HC determined the levels of pesticides in tea observed in the current survey are not expected to pose a concern to human health, therefore there were no recalls resulting from this survey. The CFIA conducted appropriate follow up activities to improve compliance.

The detection rates and the levels of metals reported in this targeted survey were comparable to those previously found in these product types, namely tea and juicesFootnote 7,Footnote 8. In these beverages, mercury and lead had the lowest and the highest observed levels, respectively.

Appendix A

List of analytes (483) included in the PESTICIDE-GCLC multi-residue pesticide program used by the accredited laboratory in this survey

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