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Food Contaminants

Any food containing a contaminant in an amount which is unacceptable from the public health viewpoint and in particular, at a toxicologically significant level must not be placed on the market. Furthermore, contaminant levels shall be kept as low as can be reasonably achieved by following good agricultural, fishery and manufacturing practices. The general European Union (EU) procedures for contaminants in food are set down in Council Regulation No. 315/93/EEC. A 'contaminant' for the purposes of Regulation (EEC) No. 315/93 is defined as: 'any substance not intentionally added to food which is present in such food as a result of the production, manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food or as a result of environmental contamination' .

To protect public health, Regulation (EEC) No. 315/93 provides that maximum levels be set for certain contaminants as part of a non-exhaustive EU list. This list is set out in  Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 .

EU Legislation

Council Regulation (EEC) No 315/93 (OJ L37, p1 13/02/1993) of 8 February 1993 laying down Community procedures for contaminants in food

 

Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 (OJ L364, p5, 20/12/2006 ) of 19 December 2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs

Amended by

  • Commission Regulation (EC) No 1126/2007 (OJ L255, p14, 29/09/2007 ) of 28 September 2007 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs as regards Fusarium toxins in maize and maize products
  • Commission Regulation (EC) No 565/2008 (OJ L160, p20, 19/06/2008 ) of 18 June 2008 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs as regards the establishment of a maximum level for dioxins and PCBs in fish liver
  • Commission Regulation (EC) No 629/2008 (OJ L173, p6, 03/07/2008 ) of 2 July 2008 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs
  •  Commission Regulation (EU) No 105/2010  (OJ L35, p7, 06/02/2010) of 5 February 2010 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs as regards ochratoxin A
  •  Commission Regulation (EU) No 165/2010  (OJ L50, p8, 27/02/2010) of 26 February 2010 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs as regards aflatoxins
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 420/2011 (OJ L111, p3, 30/04/2011) of 29 April 2011 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs
  •  Commission Regulation (EU) No 835/2011 (OJ L215, p4, 20/08/2011) of 19 August 2011 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 1258/2011(OJ L320, p15, 03/12/2011) of 2 December 2011 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for nitrates in foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 1259/2011 (OJ L320, p18, 03/12/2011) of 2 December 2012 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non dioxin-like PCBs in foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 219/2012 (OJ L75, p5, 15/03/2012) of 14 March 2012 correcting the Romanian version of Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 594/2012(OJ L176, p43, 06/07/2012) of 5 July 2012 amending Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 as regards the maximum levels of the contaminants ochratoxin A, non dioxin-like PCBs and melamine in foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 1058/2012 (OJ L313, p14, 13/11/12) of 12 November 2012 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for aflatoxins in dried figs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 1067/2013 (OJ L289, p56, 31/10/2013) of 30 October 2013 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels of the contaminants dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non-dioxin-like PCBs in liver of terrestrial animals
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 212/2014 (OJ L67, p3, 07/03/2014) of 6 March 2014 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels of the contaminant citrinin in food supplements based on rice fermented with red yeast Monascus purpureus
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 488/2014 (OJ L138, 75, 13/05/2014) of 12 May 2014 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels of cadmium in foodstuffs 
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 696/2014 (OJ L184, p1, 25/06/2014) of 24 June 2014 as regards maximum levels of erucic acid in vegetable oils and fats and foods containing vegetable oils and fats
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 1327/2014 (OJ L358, p13, 13/12/2014) of 12 December 2014as regards maximum levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in traditionally smoked meat and meat products and traditionally smoked fish and fishery products
  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/704 (OJ L113, p27, 01/05/2015) of 30 April 2015
  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/1125 (OJ L184, p7, 11/07/2015) of 10 July 2015 regards maximum levels for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in Katsuobushi (dried bonito) and certain smoked Baltic herring
  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/1137 (OJ L185, p11, 14/07/2015) of 13 July 2015 as regards the maximum level of Ochratoxin A in Capsicum spp. spices

Consolidated version of  Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006  (up to 1 January 2014)

National Legislation

European Communities (Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs) Regulations, 2010  ( S.I. No. 218 of 2010 )

Amended by:

  • European Communities(Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 276 of 2012)
  • European Communities(Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2012 (S.I. 348 of 2012)
  • European Communities (Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 (S.I. No. 380 of 2013)
  • European Communities(Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (S.I. No 143 of 2014)


The Annex to  Regulation (EC) 1881/2006  lists maximum levels for the following contaminants:

Section 1: Nitrate
Section 2: Mycotoxins

  • Aflatoxins
  • Ochratoxin A
  • Patulin
  • Deoxynivalenol
  • Zearalenone
  • Fumonisins
  • T-2 and HT-2 toxin

Section 3: Metals

  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury
  • Tin (inorganic)

Section 4: 3-monochloropropane-1,2-diol (3-MCPD)

Section 5: Dioxins and PCBs

Section 6: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006  requires that the foodstuffs listed in the Annex are not placed on the market where they contain a contaminant listed in the Annex at a level exceeding the maximum level as set out in the Annex. Specific provisions are set out in the Regulation for

  •  groundnuts, other oilseeds, tree nuts, dried fruit, rice and maize (Article 4)
  •  groundnuts (peanuts), other oilseeds, derived products thereof and cereals (Article 5)
  • lettuce (Article 6)

Transitional measures

 Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006  does not apply to products that were placed on the market before the dates referred to in points (a) to (d) below in conformity with the provisions applicable at the respective date:

  • 1 July 2006 as regards the maximum levels for deoxynivalenol and zearalenone laid down in points 2.4.1, 2.4.2, 2.4.4, 2.4.5, 2.4.6, 2.4.7, 2.5.1, 2.5.3, 2.5.5 and 2.5.7 of the Annex;
  • 4 November 2006 as regards the maximum levels for the sum of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs laid down in section 5 of the Annex
  • 1 October  2007 as regards the maximum levels for deoxynivalenol and zearalenone laid down in points 2.4.3, 2.4.8,2.4.9,2.5.2, 2.5.4, 2.5.6, 2.5.8,2.5.9 and2.5.10  of the Annex;
  • 1 October 2007 as regards the maximum levels for fumonisins B1 and B2 laid down in point 2.6 of the Annex;
  • 1 January 2012 as regards the maximum levels for non dioxin-like PCBs laid down in section 5 of the Annex;
  • 1 January 2015 as regards the maximum level for Ochratoxin A in Capsicum spp. laid down in point 2.2.11. of the Annex. 

The burden of proving when the products were placed on the market is borne by the food business operator.

Last reviewed: 25/1/2016

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