October 18, 2021

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Australian diet study finds low chemical exposure through food

A study in Australia looking at levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in food and drinks has found no food safety concerns for consumers.

The 26th Australian Total Diet Study (ATDS) by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) studied dioxins and dioxin-like compounds (DLCs), ​​polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), ​dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (DL-PCBs) and non-dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (NDL-PCBs). These chemicals are of concern as they can accumulate in the body fat of animals and humans for long periods of time and be harmful.

Levels of dioxins and NDL-PCBs across all foods did not exceed Australian or European regulatory limits. While salmon fillets had consistently higher levels than other foods because of their high oil content, the amounts were low and did not raise concerns.

The Australian Total Diet Study monitors chemicals, nutrients and other substances in the diet. Data is used to estimate consumer exposure through food to ensure it is safe to eat.

Low exposure
Mark Booth, FSANZ CEO, said the results are good news for Australians, showing exposure to these chemicals through food is low and poses no safety issues.​

“The 26th ATDS provides evidence to assure consumers they can continue to be confident that food sold in Australia is safe to eat. We looked at 33 foods typical of the Australian diet, taking 600 samples across all Australian states and territories,” he said.

“Our results show that while the selected chemicals are present in the environment, the levels are low and there are no food safety concerns for Australian consumers. The levels of these chemicals were generally lower than or comparable to those found in a previous Australian study in 2004 and overseas.”

Different foods and beverages were sampled from Australian states and territories over two periods in April 2017 and February 2018 to take into account seasonality. They included milk, cheese, eggs, fish, meat and meat products, fruits, rice, vegetables, bread, some takeaway foods and tap water.

Run every two to three years, the survey looks at consumers’ exposure to a range of chemicals in food and helps regulators assess where risks to the safety of food may be and how to respond and address them.

Dioxin and PCB results
Current risk management measures include maximum levels (MLs) in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to ensure that dioxin and NDL-PCB levels remain as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).

Dioxins were detected in 32 of 33 foods sampled and 190 of 200 composite samples. Foods with the highest mean dioxin levels were salmon and fish fillets. Other foods with detectable levels included crumbed fish portions, butter, cheddar cheese, canned tuna, and liver pate. Mean levels in infant formula were low.

Levels of dioxins in foods are very low in Australia and trending downwards compared to results of a 2004 study.

Of the 16 NDL-PCB congeners analyzed, 12 were detected. Of these, one or more were found in 13 of the 33 sampled foods, and 21 of 200 composite samples.

Dioxins and NDL-PCBs tend to accumulate at higher levels in fatty foods such as fish, meat and dairy products. Lower fat items such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals generally contain lower amounts of these substances.

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