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Food Safety

Lead in food

Lead is a metal that occurs in organic and inorganic forms; the latter predominates in the environment. Lead is an environmental contaminant that occurs naturally and, to a greater extent, from anthropogenic activities.

The central nervous system is the main target organ for lead toxicity. The developing brain is more vulnerable to the neurotoxicity of lead than the mature brain. Apart from developmental neurotoxicity in young children, lead can also cause cardiovascular effects and nephrotoxicity in adults.

Cereal products and grains, vegetables (especially potatoes and leafy vegetables) and tap water are the most important contributors to lead dietary exposure in the general European population.

The dietary exposure for women of child-bearing age and vegetarians is not different from that of the general adult population. Consumer groups with higher lead exposure levels include high consumers of game meat and of game offal.

The most recent review of the maximum levels for lead in food combines the lowering of existing maximum levels with the setting of additional maximum levels for specific food commodities, with an emphasis on the reduction of exposure of babies, infants and young children.

Useful links:

Current maximum levels for lead in certain foods are laid down in Regulation (EC) No 2006/1881 (see section 3.1 of the Annex).

Provisions for methods of sampling and analysis for official control are laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 333/2007.

EFSA Scientific Opinion on Lead in Food

EFSA Scientific Report on Lead dietary exposure in the European population

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