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Food monitoring 2000: Maximum levels of undesirable substances rarely exceeded

17/2002, 29.07.2002

Representative nationwide study documents low level of contamination

Although there is no let-up in the number of food scandals in the media and consumer confidence is being tested almost daily, the results of nationwide food monitoring paint a far more positive picture of the quality of the food on sale on the German market. Only 1.6% of the 4,818 samples examined in 2000 were found to contain higher levels of undesirable substances than permitted. All other samples were either not contaminated at all or only to a minor degree.

23 different foods of domestic and foreign origin were examined for 180 individual substances, including residues of plant protection products and their metabolites, organic environmental contaminants, mycotoxins, heavy metals, nitrate and benzo(a)pyrene. Besides foods of animal and plant origin, the investigation focussed on infant and follow-up formula. Samples were collected from commerce but also from manufacturers and importers. The foods examined did not contain any undesirable substances at all or only had a low level of contamination. No special food consumption recommendations for the protection of the consumer are necessary. In principle, people should eat a balanced and diverse diet.

Besides the routine control of foods by the official food control authorities of the federal states, monitoring is an additional instrument of preventive consumer health protection. In conjunction with monitoring, foods on sale on the German market are examined in order to obtain qualitative and quantitative data about the occurrence of undesirable substances.

Since 1995 food monitoring has been an independent task of official food control of the federal states. Sampling and analysis are undertaken in accordance with a sampling plan developed by BgVV which permits representative statements about the contamination situation of German consumers. BgVV is responsible for the organisation, recording and evaluation of the data and for informing the general public about the results.

The substances are selected for specific foods by experts from the federal states, the Federal Biological Agency (BBA) and BgVV. This is based on a "legal application". In the case of plant protection products, for instance, attention also focuses on substances which are authorised for use in the foods covered by the monitoring and which could, therefore, form residues. By contrast, the monitoring does not take into account substances which have not been permitted for many years and which could only lead to residues through illegal use as was the case, for instance, with nitrofen. Individual studies conducted outside official food monitoring have confirmed this approach: 1,373 investigations of foods of plant origin for nitrofen were negative in 2000.

Individual results of the studies:

  • No or only traces of contamination were found in the majority of samples.
  • In 1.6% of the samples the levels of undesirable substances exceeded the statutory maximum levels.
  • Cucumbers were conspicuous: in 10.7% of the samples the maximum levels for plant protection agents were exceeded. Cucumbers should, therefore, be washed thoroughly or peeled prior to consumption or preparation.
  • Infant and follow-up formula, for which there are especially restrictive maximum level provisions, contained almost no undesirable substances. Only in isolated cases was fruit stew contaminated to an insignificant degree.
  • With the exception of Chinese cabbage, the levels of nitrate in the foods examined were low.
  • Sunflower seeds and peanuts were contaminated with cadmium.
  • Peanuts had higher levels of aflatoxins.
  • Whereas the maximum levels for benzo(a)pyrene in ham were largely complied with, benzo(a)pyrene could be detected in more than half of the olive oil samples - albeit mostly in low concentrations.
  • Salmon contains lead, cadmium and mercury although all these undesirable substances were in low concentrations.

The Food Monitoring Report 2000 contains the detailed study results. It is available from the BgVV Press and Public Relations Office for a nominal fee of € 5 or it can be accessed as a pdf file on the Institute's website (

The task of food monitoring, which was undertaken up to now by BgVV, will be continued by the Federal Agency for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) after the entry into force of the Law restructuring consumer health protection.


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