The European food safety watchdog’s Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) made the announcement as it recommended raising maximum levels of the toxic mould from 4µ/kg to 10µg/kg for all tree nuts.Aflatoxins can occur in food and feed as a result of fungal contamination by moulds, primarily by Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus under warm and humid conditions and are most likely to be present in tree nuts.
However, even as the panel adopted the opinion, it stressed that “that exposure to aflatoxins from all sources should be as low as reasonably achievable, because aflatoxins are genotoxic and carcinogenic, and that priority should be given to reducing the numbers of highly contaminated foods reaching the market, irrespective of the commodity involved”.
EFSA was originally tasked with re-examining the levels by the European Commission in January 2007. This followed a proposal from the Codex Committee for Food Additives and Contaminants (CCFAC) to the bloc to increase aflatoxins limits in almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios. At that time the panel said changing the level from 4µ/kg to 8 or 10 µg/kg for these three types of nuts would “have a minor impact on the estimates of dietary exposure, cancer risk and the calculated margin of exposures”.
The previous estimates showed increasing the maximum levels for total aflatoxins in almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios from 4 to 8 or 10 µg/kg would increase total dietary exposure to the substance by around one per cent. By including all other thee nuts, the panel noted that only about 0.5 per cent of such nuts would have concentrations in this range except for Brazil nuts with 2.4 per cent.
Based on consumption data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the impact of such an increase would be even less than for the three tree nuts in the initial opinion and is expected to increase total dietary exposure by less than two per cent for the majority of the respective population, concluded EFSA.
“Furthermore, if as is expected, tree nuts exceeding the maximum aflatoxin levels are occasionally consumed, the long term average dietary total aflatoxin exposure would be higher, but in turn the impact of raising the maximum level for all tree nuts from 4 to 10 µg/kg would be less,” added CONTAM
Consequently, the recent recommendation would see maximum levels of aflatoxins for all other tree nuts raised to identical levels and would harmonise EU regulations with those of Codex. Risk managers have also concluded that the move would “facilitate the enforcement of maximum levels, particularly for nut mixtures”.
The panel reached its latest conclusion after looking at almost 35,000 incidents of aflatoxin-tainted food products - including tree nuts other than almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios - in 2006.
However the panel appeared to admonish the Commission for not giving it sufficient time to gather more recent information.
“The short deadline of the Commission request for the current statement did not allow EFSA to issue a complementary call for further information, thus EFSA relied on existing information on aflatoxin in food collected in 2006," said an EFSA statement.