Chlorate in food was discovered in 2014 by an official control laboratory by coincidence. In 2015, EFSA found that levels of chlorate in drinking water and in foods were too high and could result in potential serious health effects (impaired functioning of the thyroid due to inhibition of iodine uptake), especially among infants and children. Chlorate originates from chlorine disinfectants widely and legally used in water treatment and in food processing with drinking water being by far the main contributor.
Chlorate is no longer approved as a pesticide in the EU and so, according to the EU legislation on MRLs (Regulation (EC) 396/2005), the default maximum residue level (MRL) of 0.01 mg/kg was applicable for all food products. As the levels of chlorate found in food products are often above the default, strict enforcement action based on the default MRL of 0.01 mg/kg was taken by some Member States. This created internal market problems. DG SANTE’s commitment to engage in setting up a multi-disciplinary action plan (together with DG ENV) helped to temporarily put on hold those strict enforcement actions based on the default MRL. Therefore, the Heads of National Food Safety Agencies agreed on the following action plan on 23 May 2017, for which all actions have been finalised:
- Setting a chlorate maximum level in drinking water;
- Recommending good food hygiene practices in order to reduce chlorate originating from chlorinated disinfectants;
- Maintaining the MRLs for foods intended for infants and young children at 0.01 mg/kg;
- Setting MRLs for chlorate in regular food at levels based on occurrence data gathered in all Member States (Commission Regulation (EU) 2020/749 of 4 June 2020)
Commission Regulation (EU) 2020/749 amended the MRLs for chlorate for all food products except for those intended for infants and young children, as the latter fall under the more specific regulatory framework for foods of particular nutritional uses. It has been applicable since 28 June 2020.