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Arsenic – complying with new limits in food

By David Bellis - 15 May 2017

Arsenic is known to be harmful to health, but not all forms of arsenic are equally toxic – the inorganic form is far more harmful than 'organic arsenic' (arsenic bound in organic molecules). Inorganic arsenic can cause long term health effects. The regulatory limits for arsenic in food therefore focus on inorganic arsenic, and it is important that methods of arsenic analysis distinguish these types if the results are to be meaningful. We have developed a method that does just this.

Arsenic – sources and analysis

Arsenic is found naturally in the environment so it’s impossible to prevent it from entering foods such as crops and sea food. Food producers need to ensure that the level of arsenic in products is as low as reasonably achievable and complies with regulatory limits. It's therefore important to be able to accurately measure arsenic levels in food and to be able to distinguish between the two types.

We have implemented an improved method to accurately measure arsenic levels in food and drink products for regulatory compliance and to demonstrate due diligence in assuring product safety. Following a low temperature extraction, species–specific hydrides are generated, for on-line separation of inorganic and organic arsenic species, with subsequent detection by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (HG–ICP–MS) – based on a method originally developed at the University of Aberdeen.

Regulatory limits

Rice can absorb significant levels of arsenic from the environment. It is also important to be able to check arsenic levels in rice because it is such an important dietary staple globally and within the EU.

The European Commission (through Regulation (EU) 2015/1006) has established maximum permissible levels for inorganic arsenic in rice of 0.20 mg/kg for milled rice, 0.25 mg/kg for parboiled rice, 0.30 mg/kg for rice waffles, rice wafers, rice crackers and rice cakes, and 0.10 mg/kg for rice destined for the production of food for infants and young children.

Internationally, the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food is currently compiling a Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Arsenic Contamination in Rice to help rice producers control arsenic levels.

Complying with limits

Using our HG–ICP–MS method we can accurately and specifically determine the levels of inorganic arsenic in rice, to check that they comply with regulatory limits. We have validated the method by measuring the inorganic arsenic in certified reference materials. In addition to rice, some sea food is at risk of higher levels of arsenic. We have demonstrated that our method can also be used for analysis in seafood, using samples with known levels from a recognised proficiency scheme.

Determining the levels and nature of the arsenic in samples is very important in helping you to demonstrate you are complying with food safety regulations. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you with arsenic analysis, please get in touch.

David Bellis: +44(0)1386 842208