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Quality of our foods is good with a few exceptions

18/2000, 05.09.2000

Monitoring by the federal government and the Länder confirms low level of contamination with undesirable substances

The quality of foods of domestic and foreign origin, which are on sale on the German market, is generally good. This has been proven by studies involving more than 4,500 samples of substances like plant protection product residues, environmental contaminants, nitrate, nitrite, and the mycotoxins aflatoxin and ochratoxin A. They were conducted by the federal Länder in 1998 within the framework of food monitoring. Although levels were found in 3.5% of all samples which were higher than the statutory maximum levels, none of the foods constituted a health risk. The situation is still unacceptable with regard to Iranian pistachio nuts. They had been the subject of attention in previous years because of their high level of contamination with aflatoxins. Although the monitoring steps to ensure compliance with the maximum levels provisions had been intensified, and the pistachios in question did not reach the market, BgVV upholds its recommendation from 1997. At that time, BgVV had advised against eating Iranian pistachios (bgvv press release 23/97). The overall problem of mycotoxins must be given more attention in the future.

Whereas the majority of foods examined had been included in the monitoring plan for the first time, some of the foods had already been contained in the monitoring programmes of the years 1995 to 1997. The results, therefore, permit statements about trends.

The individual results:

  • In the majority of samples no or only traces of plant protection products were detected. Scarcely any residues were found in rye and wheat. All the same, ochratoxin A was detected in up to one-fifth of these samples. The introduction of a maximum level for this and, where appropriate, other mycotoxins is currently being discussed within the EU. Some stone fruits had a higher level of contamination with plant protection products like apricots, nectarines and sweet cherries. In the case of these types of fruit from 10.2% to 16.2% of the samples exceeded the valid maximum levels.
  • Spinach, in its capacity as a nitrate-storing plant, was examined for nitrate and nitrite. All contents were below the maximum levels.
  • Contamination with heavy metals did not play a role in the foods. Only in the case of wild boar were lead contents found around the entry wound of the shot.

With these reservations the above results show that the foods examined in the 1998 monitoring can be eaten without concern. Meals should however be balanced and diverse. It is recommended that fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly prior to consumption or cooking. Studies have shown that most of the undesirable substances can be removed in this way.

Food monitoring is a programme which has been jointly conducted by the federal government and Länder since 1995. Every year a representative selection of foods for the Federal Republic of Germany is examined for the occurrence of undesirable substances. Food monitoring is an important tool in routine official control and serves the purposes of preventive health consumer protection. With its help potential risks can be recognised early on and suitable measures taken.

The results of food monitoring are published every year in a special report series and made available in this way to the interested public. Summary data on the findings from 1998 and derived recommendations for consumers are contained in the report "Food Monitoring 1998" (in German) which has just been published. It can be obtained at a cost of DM 10 in writing from the BgVV Press and Public Relations Office. The comprehensive report with all its tables can also be accessed on the BgVV site under "Monitoring 1998". The reports for the years 1995 to 1997 are also available on CD-ROM. They cost DM 10 each.


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