Individual samples were purchased from various retailers and were analysed at the end of March and beginning of April 2006. In addition, some follow-up samples were analysed in the middle of May 2006. The samples consisted of concentrates (squashes), carbonated drinks, still drinks and some flavoured waters. All samples were analysed as purchased and not as prepared for consumption. When a sample was found to contain benzene above 10 ppb, follow-up samples were taken by the Environmental Health Service with different batch codes and different best before dates and supplied to the laboratory for analysis. The analysis method used for the determination of benzene was an accredited method (i.e. Method Number 1/48) and involved headspace and gas Chromatography (GC) coupled with mass spectrometry detection (MS). A recovery factor of 0.93 was applied to all results. The limit of quantitation (LOQ) for the method was 1 ppb.
The results of this survey are presented in Tables 1 and 2. In Table 1 the results of the original 76 samples are shown. Table 2 presents the results for the follow-up samples for the two products found to contain benzene above the 10ppb limit.
Table 1 shows that seven samples contained benzene at or above the limit of quantitation (LOQ) of 1ppb. One sample of C&C diet club lemon contained benzene at 91 ppb and another sample of Rose's diabetic orange concentrate squash contained benzene at a level of 33 ppb. It must be noted that both products were purchased and analysed at a time past their best before date. In addition, the 33 ppb detected in the Roses's diabetic orange squash was on the concentrated product as purchased and did not take into account the dilution factor of 1 in 5 as indicated by the manufacturers on the label.
Table 2 shows the results of the follow-up samples for the two products which were above the 10 ppb WHO benzene limit in drinking water. All of the follow-up samples on Roses' Diabetic Orange Squash contained undetectable levels of benzene, whereas four out of the five C&C Diet Club Lemon drinks contained benzene levels above 10 ppb. Another sample of C&C Club Orange was also taken for comparison purposes but this was shown to have undetectable levels of benzene.
In the case of the C&C Diet Club Lemon drink the manufacturers were notified immediately and as a result further testing of library samples by C&C took place in Reading Scientific Services Laboratory (RSSL) in the UK in order to confirm the original 91 ppb result. This result was confirmed and as a result the company voluntarily withdrew all product from the Irish market. The FSAI notified the authorities in Northern Ireland , where the product was also distributed. In addition the FSAI notified these high results to the Commission on the 12.4.2006 through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) an Alert Notification 2006.0253 was issued.
For the Rose's Diabetic Orange Squash product, EHO follow-up samples failed to confirm the original test result. However, Chivers, the distributors of the product in Ireland were informed and conducted further analysis of the product. The UK manufacturer also carried out tests in the UK . Although tests by the manufacturer proved negative, tests by Chivers in Ireland did find one sample with 33ppb benzene. Risk assessment identified that subsequent dilution of the product following manufacturers instructions would have ensured the product, as consumed, was below the 10ppb action limit for benzene. Despite this, for commercial reasons Chivers withdrew the product in Ireland and has since ceased distribution.
During the survey it was noted that the two beverage products that were found to contain elevated benzene levels had been purchased by FSAI from retailers when the products were past their best before date. The sale of product past its best before date is not an offence in food law. However, the retail chains involved were notified and have issued statements to the FSAI indicating that stock rotation procedures in the stores involved have been reviewed and strengthened.
The results indicate that the levels of benzene found in soft drinks, squashes and flavoured waters to date do not pose a safety concern for consumers. Almost all of the samples tested in this survey (97.4%) contained benzene below analytical detection levels or levels below 10ppb (the WHO guidelines for safe levels in drinking water which was used as an appropriate comparator in this survey). These results are consistent with those found in other samples that have been tested by national and international government agencies and the beverage industry themselves. Appropriate action has been taken by the Irish manufacturer and Irish distributor, respectively, of the two products on the Irish market that were found to have elevated levels of benzene. As a result of this intensive monitoring worldwide, manufacturers are working to reformulate their products to ensure benzene formation is minimised or eliminated. In addition a guidance document has been drawn up for industry on ways to reduce the formation of benzene FSAI will continue to closely monitor the developments on benzene in these products and endorses the view that the levels reported in soft drinks are generally very low resulting in a low risk to health. However, the levels of benzene should be maintained below 10 ppb and beverages with higher levels should be subject to withdrawal or recall, based on risk assessment. These findings support the conclusion that exposure of the Irish population to benzene via soft drinks is very low and does not raise any concerns for human health.