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Children's Food Project - Final report - 2014 to 2015

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) uses a number of different monitoring programs for chemical residues and contaminants in food to ensure that the food supply is safe and compliant with Canadian standards. The Children's Food Project (CFP) complements these activities by specifically collecting information on chemical residues and contaminants in manufactured foods frequently consumed by, and targeted to, infants and children. Because of their smaller body weight, their development and growth, and their consumption patterns this group may be at higher risk from exposure to these chemicals.

The main objectives of the 2014 to 2015 CFP were to:

In the 2014 to 2015 CFP, a total of 221 samples of infant foods were purchased in the Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec areas. These samples included infant cereals, infant formula, toddler snacks, yogurt, pureed fruits, pureed vegetables, juices, pureed fruit and vegetable combinations, and pureed infant food containing meat. Samples were analyzed for pesticide residues, veterinary drug residues, and aflatoxin M1 (in dairy based samples).

The overall regulatory compliance rate of the infant food samples tested for pesticide and veterinary drug residues was 100%.Over 80% of the 221 samples tested did not contain any detectable pesticide residues. Veterinary drug residues were not detected in approximately 40% of the 51 samples of infant formula or infant food containing meat or dairy. All veterinary drug residues detected were compliant with Canadian Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) established by Health Canada (HC) or, in cases where no regulations exist, below the limit of quantitation.

A total of 32 milk-based samples were tested for aflatoxin M1. Aflatoxin M1 was not detected in 88% of the samples. All of the samples with detectable levels of aflatoxin were below the Codex Alimentarius maximum level (ML) of 0.5 parts per billion (ppb). The levels of aflatoxin M1 found in infant formula were assessed by HC and were not considered to be of concern to infant health.

Data obtained from surveillance programs like the CFP are useful in the assessment of the dietary exposure of Canadian children to pesticide residues, veterinary drug residues, and aflatoxin M1 in infant foods. All data was reviewed by HC and no health risk was identified to Canadian infants.

What is the children's food project

The CFP was started by the CFIA in 2003 to investigate levels of pesticide residues and metals, in foods for infants and children. Because of their smaller body weight, their development and growth, and their consumption patterns, this group may be at higher risk from exposure to these chemicals.

We use a number of different monitoring programs to ensure that the food supply is safe and compliant with Canadian standards. The CFP complements these activities by specifically collecting information on domestically produced and imported manufactured foods frequently consumed by and targeting children (for example, infant formula, cereal-based products, fruit juices and beverages). Together, the data from these programs help health authorities assess potential exposure to chemical residues and contaminants in a number of foods consumed by Canadian children.

The main objectives of the 2014 to 2015 CFP were to:

What did we sample

In total, 221 domestic and imported infant foods were sampled for this survey. Of the 221 samples, 87 were labelled as organic. Both imported and domestically-produced foods were sampled with 88 products manufactured in Canada and the remaining products (133) imported from other countries.

Table 1. Breakdown of products sampled in 2014 – 2015
Infant food Number of Samples
Infant cereal (for example, rice, wheat, mixed grains, cereals mixed with fruit) 30
Infant formula (for example, milk-based, nutritional supplements) 22
Juice (for example, apple, pear, peach) 9
Pureed fruits (for example, apple, banana, blueberry, mixed fruits) 26
Pureed vegetables (for example, carrots, broccoli, peas, mixed vegetables) 35
Pureed fruit and vegetable combinations (for example, apple and sweet potato; banana, apple and kale; garden vegetable and raisin) 9
Purees containing meat (for example, beef, lamb, veal, meat with mixed vegetables) 31
Toddler snacks (for example, biscuits, cereal bars, puffed rice, dried fruit, pudding) 52
Yogurt (for example, drinkable, Greek, soy) 7
Total 221

Sampling limitations

Due to the limited number of samples and products analyzed, care must be taken when interpreting these results. Regional differences, impact of product shelf-life, storage conditions, or cost of the commodity on the open market were not examined in this survey. Samples were tested as sold, which means the product was tested as is and not prepared according to package instructions.

How were samples analyzed and assessed

Analytical testing for the various types of analytes was performed by ISO/IEC 17025 accredited food testing laboratories under contract with the Government of Canada.

Pesticide analysis

The samples were tested for a range of pesticide residues which are commonly used in farming to control insects, fungus, and weeds. A summary of the pesticide residues analyzed can be found in Tables A-1 and A-2 of Appendix A.

Veterinary drug analysis

Samples containing meat and milk were analyzed for veterinary drug residues, which can be administered to food-producing animals to prevent or treat disease or to promote growth. The veterinary drugs analyzed are listed in Tables A-3 and A-4 of Appendix A.

Aflatoxin M1 analysis

Aflatoxins are natural chemicals released by moulds which can thrive in hot, humid climates but are not typically detected in Canadian crops. Aflatoxin B1, which has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as causing cancer in humansFootnote 1, is metabolized to aflatoxin M1, which is excreted in milk when contaminated feeds are consumed by milk-producing food animals. Animal studies have shown that aflatoxin M1 causes cancer in the same way as aflatoxin B1Footnote 1 Footnote 2. For this reason, all samples of milk-based infant formula and yogurt were analyzed for aflatoxin M1.

Assessment of results

The pesticide and veterinary drug residue results from samples tested in the project were evaluated against Canadian MRLs established by HC. For pesticides, the MRL is the maximum amount of residues that is expected to remain in or on food products when a pesticide is used according to product label directions. For veterinary drug residues, the MRL is a level of residue that could safely remain in the tissue or food product derived from a food-producing animal that has been treated with a veterinary drug.

Canadian pesticide MRLs are listed in the MRL DatabaseFootnote 3 published on the HC website. In the absence of an MRL, pesticide residues must comply with the General MRL (GMRL) of 0.1 ppm as stated in section B.15.002 (1) of the Food and Drug Regulations.

Canadian MRLs for veterinary drug residues in foods are published in the List of MRLs for Veterinary Drugs in FoodFootnote 4 on HC's website. In the absence of an MRL or proposed MRL for a veterinary drug, the CFIA deems any food product containing a residue at or above the limit of quantitation (LOQ) to be non-compliant.

A list of banned drugs are published on HC's website. Any detected levels of banned substances are not permitted under the Food and Drug Regulations as seen on the Government of Canada website.

What were the results


A total of 442 tests for pesticide residues were carried out on all 221 samples. No detectable levels of pesticide residues were found in 80.5% of the infant foods tested (178 samples). The results from the remaining 43 samples that had a detectable level of one or more pesticide residues are summarized in Appendix B. The regulatory compliance rate for food products tested for pesticide residues was 100%.

In this study, 87 of the 221 samples were labelled as "organic". There were no pesticide residues detected in 84% of organic products tested. Most of the organic products that were positive for pesticide residues contained spinosad, which is a naturally derived insecticide that is permitted for use in Canada in organic agriculture. All positives for the pesticides residues, excluding those for permitted substances, were shared with the Organic program for follow-up actions. These follow-up actions may include communication with organic certification bodies.

Veterinary drugs

A total of 237 tests for veterinary drug residues were carried out on 51 samples of infant foods (31 infant foods containing meat and 20 milk-based infant formula). No residues were detected in 61% of the samples. Most of the positives were related to the use of antibiotics; details on the residues that were detected can be found in Appendix C.

There were 13 veterinary drug residues detected. One of the compounds, semicarbazide, had a particularly high positive rate relative to the other drugs (45% in comparison to 2-6%). In this case, all of the products in which semicarbazide was found were packaged in glass jars with "blown-in" seals. Semicarbazide is a known break down product of some of the materials used to produce these gaskets. It was not possible for the laboratory to determine whether semicarbazide was present due to the use of a veterinary drug (nitrofurazone) or a chemical contaminant related to the use of seals on metal lids for glass jarsFootnote 5.

The other 12 veterinary drugs found were compounds which are used to treat parasites (thiabendazole, 2-aminosulfone albendazole, albendazole, albendazole sulfoxide, and albendazole sulphone, nicarbazin, lasalocid and monensin), to promote growth (testosterone), to promote leanness (ractopamine) and as antibiotics (florfenicol, oxytetracycline). The levels were compliant as they were below MRLs of the methods.

Two of the ten samples which contained either meat or dairy products and labelled as "organic "or "72% organic ingredients" were positive for semicarbazide. In both samples, semicarbazide was observed at low levels, the product was packaged in glass bottles with metal lids with no trace of the parent banned drug. The samples were deemed compliant.

Aflatoxin M1

A total of 32 milk-based infant food samples were tested for aflatoxin M1. The foods tested included formula, yogurt and puddings. As Canada does not have an established maximum level for aflatoxin M1 in milk or milk-based products, compliance was not assessed. The aflatoxin levels detected were compared to the Codex Alimentarius (an international standard setting body) ML of 0.5 ppb for aflatoxin M1 in milk. Aflatoxin M1 was detected in 4 of the 20 samples of infant formula at levels well below the Codex ML. Levels ranged from 0.011 ppb to 0.061 ppb in powdered formulas. Aflatoxin M1 was not detected in 12 samples of milk-based yogurts and puddings.


The results of the CFP were shared with HC and they determined that none of the samples tested posed a health risk to Canadian infants. There were no product actions or recalls resulting from this sampling and testing on the basis of health risk. The infant foods tested in this survey, whether domestically produced or imported, are safe for consumption.

CFIA is committed to ensuring a safe food supply for all Canadians, including the vulnerable populations such as infants and young children. In the coming year, pesticide residues, bisphenol-A (BPA) and its alternatives, and toxic metals (arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead) will be examined in pureed infant food, infant snacks and fruit juice samples.

Appendix A

Table A-1 Pesticides examined in non-dairy processed products

Table A-2 Pesticides examined in dairy products

Table A-3 Antibiotics multi-residue method

Table A-4 Other veterinary drug analytes (134)

Appendix B

Table B-1 Pesticide residues detected and percent compliance (by residue) in infant foods and infant formula

Residue No. Tests No. Positives % Positive No. Violations Levels (ppm) MRL (ppm)
Carbendazim 221 16 7.24 0 0.0056-0.105 0.1 - 10
Pyrimethanil 221 11 4.98 0 0.0052-0.0351 3 or 14
Thiabendazole 221 10 4.52 0 0.0059-0.0157 10 or 55
Spinosyn A 221 6 2.71 0 0.0058-0.0232 0.1 or 0.2
Fludioxonil 221 3 1.36 0 0.0129-0.0222 5 or 7
Carbaryl 442 2 0.90 0 0.0341-0.0405 5
Malathion 221 2 0.90 0 0.0195-0.0322 2
Methoxyfenozide 221 2 0.90 0 0.0064-0.0095 1.5
Thiacloprid 221 2 0.90 0 0.0053-0.0092 0.3
Chlorpropham 221 1 0.45 0 0.073 15
Clothianidin 221 1 0.45 0 0.0051 0.3
Cyprodinil 221 1 0.45 0 0.0241 10
Diniconazole 221 1 0.45 0 0.0131 0.1
Fenhexamid 221 1 0.45 0 0.0395 20
Imidacloprid 221 1 0.45 0 0.0183 2.5
p,p'-DDE 221 1 0.45 0 0.0048 1
Tricyclazole 221 1 0.45 0 0.0053 0.1

Appendix C

Table C-1 Veterinary drug residues detected and percent compliance (by residue) in infant foods and infant formula

Residue No. Tests No. Positives % Positive No. Violations % Compliance
Semicarbazide 31 14 45.16% 0 100%
Thiabendazole 51 3 5.88% 0 100%
Florfenicol 51 2 3.92% 0 100%
Ractopamine 31 1 3.23% 0 100%
Testosterone 31 1 3.23% n/a n/a
2-aminosulfone albendazole 51 1 1.96% 0 100%
Albendazole 51 1 1.96% 0 100%
Albendazole Sulfoxide 51 1 1.96% 0 100%
Albendazole Sulfone 51 1 1.96% 0 100%
Lasalocid 51 1 1.96% 0 100%
Monensin 51 1 1.96% 0 100%
Nicarbazin 51 1 1.96% 0 100%
Oxytetracycline 51 1 1.96% 0 100%

Note: Thiabendazole is used both as a pesticide and as a veterinary drug. It was not detected by the pesticide screen but was detected in the veterinary drug screen because the extraction methods and LODs are different.

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