Number 191 November 1999
MAFF UK - 1997 TOTAL DIET STUDY - ALUMINIUM, ARSENIC, CADMIUM,
CHROMIUM, COPPER, LEAD, MERCURY, NICKEL, SELENIUM, TIN AND ZINC
Index to MAFF UK Food Surveillance Information
33: MAFF, UK: A survey of Cadmium,
Arsenic, Mercury and Lead concentrations in Individual foods (July
34: MAFF UK - 1991 Total Diet
Study (July 1994)
113: MAFF, UK: Survey of Lead
and Cadmium in foods (June 1997)
119: MAFF UK - Survey of
Mercury in foods (August 1997)
126: MAFF UK - Dietary Intake
131: MAFF UK - 1994 Total
Diet Study: Metals and Other Elements
137: MAFF UK - 1991 Total
Diet Study - Nitrate and Nitrite (December 1997)
149: MAFF UK - 1994 Total
Diet Study (Part 2) Dietary intakes of metals and other elements
152: MAFF UK - Summaries of
Food Surveillance Papers - 'Lead, Arsenic and Other Metals in Food'
and 'Cadmium, Mercury and Other Metals in Food' (June 1998)
166: MAFF UK - Metals and
Other Elements in Vegetarian Foods (November 1998)
194: MAFF UK - Nutrient analysis
of Bread and Morning Goods (January 2000)
199: MAFF UK - Multi-Element
Survey of Wild Edible Fungi and Blackberries (March 2000)
- The Total Diet Study provides information on dietary exposures
of the general UK population to chemicals such as nutrients and
- Dietary exposures to aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin and zinc are regularly
checked to see if there are any risks to health from the levels
of these chemicals found in the UK diet.
- The results from the 1997 Total Diet Study show that dietary
exposures to aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury,
nickel, tin and zinc are similar to those from previous years
and are not a concern to health.
- Dietary exposures to lead for UK consumers continue to fall
and are well below the recommended safe level of exposure.
- The estimated selenium intake of the UK population is similar
to those from 1994 and 1995 and is lower than those from 1991
and 1985. In considering the 1994 and 1995 estimates, the Committee
on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) agreed that there was,
at present, no evidence of adverse health consequences from current
Concentrations of eleven metals and other elements analysed in
the 1997 Total Diet Study (TDS) are reported and have been used
to estimate dietary exposures of the general UK population to these
elements. Samples for the 20 TDS food groups were obtained from
20 towns in the UK in 1997 and analysed in 1998/99 for aluminium,
arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium,
tin and zinc.
Analyses for bromine, fluorine and iodine are also being carried
out but are not reported here. When completed, the results of these
analyses and the corresponding dietary exposure estimates will be
reported in a separate Food Surveillance Information Sheet.
Dietary exposures to aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper,
mercury, nickel, tin and zinc estimated from the results of the
1997 TDS are similar to those from previous TDSs and are below the
appropriate recommended safe levels of exposure where these exist.
Dietary exposure of the UK population to lead is falling as a result
of successful measures taken to reduce lead contamination of the
environment and food. There has been little change in estimates
of selenium exposure since the 1994 TDS but current estimates are
lower than those from the 1991 and 1985 TDSs.
Metals and other elements in food
Environmental sources are the main contributors to contamination
of food with most metals and other elements. Some elements (e.g.
arsenic) are present naturally but the major sources of other elements
(e.g. lead) in the environment are from pollution from industrial
and other human activities. The presence of metals and other elements
in food can also be the result of contamination by certain agricultural
practices (e.g. cadmium from phosphate fertilisers) or manufacturing
processes (e.g. tin in canned foods).
Metals and other elements in food are of interest because of their
possible health effects. Some have no known beneficial biological
function and long-term, high-level exposures may be harmful to health.
For example, organic mercury compounds are neurotoxins, exposure
to lead can be harmful to neuropsychological development, inorganic
arsenic is a human carcinogen, and cadmium can affect renal function.
Other elements can cause short-term health effects from one incidence
of high-level exposure. For example, high concentrations of tin
in food can cause stomach upsets. Some elements, such as copper,
chromium, selenium and zinc are essential to health but may be toxic
at high levels of exposure.1,2
The risks to health from chemicals in food can be assessed by comparing
estimates of dietary exposure with recommended safe levels of exposure.
In the case of metals and other elements, these are the Provisional
Tolerable Weekly Intakes (PTWIs) and Provisional Maximum Tolerable
Daily Intakes (PMTDIs) recommended by the Joint Expert Committee
on Food Additives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations and the World Health Organization International Programme
on Chemical Safety (JECFA). The PTWI or PMTDI is an estimate of
the amount of a substance that can be ingested over a lifetime without
The Joint Food Safety and Standards Group (JFSSG) carries out surveys
to obtain information on the concentrations of metals and other
elements in food. This information is used together with consumption
data to estimate dietary exposures and assess the safety of foods
consumed in the UK. The main source of information on dietary exposures
of the general UK population to metals and other elements is the
TDS which is described below.
Total Diet Study
The TDS is an important part of JFSSG surveillance programme for
chemicals in food and has been carried out on a continuous annual
basis since 1966. Results from the TDS are used to estimate dietary
exposures of the general UK population to chemicals in food, such
as nutrients and contaminants, to identify trends in exposure and
make assessments on the safety and nutritional quality of the food
The design of the UK Total Diet Study has been described in detail
elsewhere, but basically involves 119 categories of foods combined
into 20 groups of similar foods for analysis.3,4
The relative proportion of each food category within a
group reflects its importance in the average UK household diet and
is based on an average of three previous years of consumption data
from the National Food Survey.5 Foods
are grouped so that commodities known to be susceptible to contamination
(e.g. offals, fish) are kept separate, as are foods which are consumed
in large quantities (e.g. bread, potatoes, milk).3,4
Analyses for metals and other elements in the TDS are carried out
every three years. The foods making up the 20 groups analysed for
metals and other elements are obtained from retail outlets in 20
locations throughout the UK. Samples are transported to one centre
where they are prepared and cooked (where necessary) according to
normal domestic practice. After preparation, the constituents of
each food group are thoroughly homogenised and frozen until analysis.
Each food group obtained from each location (i.e. a total of 400
samples) in the 1997 TDS was analysed for aluminium, arsenic, cadmium,
chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin and zinc.
The mean (average) concentrations from the 20 samples of each food
group were used together with data on the consumption of these food
groups to make estimates of dietary exposure for either the average
UK household (i.e. population exposure estimates) or for individual
adult consumers (i.e. consumer exposure estimates). Population exposure
estimates are compared with those from previous years to identify
trends in exposure. Consumer exposure estimates are compared with
the appropriate PTWIs and PMTDIs to assess the safety of foods consumed
by the general UK population.
Brand names are not available as TDS samples are composites of a
number of different foods.6
Individual components of the TDS food groups were purchased from
retail outlets in 20 representative towns in the UK in 1997 and
prepared as for consumption, including cooking where appropriate,
before being combined into one of 20 food groups.3,4
The 400 individual TDS samples analysed in this study were prepared
and homogenised by the Institute of Food Research (Norwich).
Samples were analysed for aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
copper, lead, mercury, nickel selenium, tin and zinc by the Central
Science Laboratory, Norwich (CSL). Prior to analysis, the homogenised
samples were digested in inert plastic vessels with nitric acid
using microwave heating. All elements except mercury and selenium
were analysed using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry
(ICP-MS). Hydride Generation ICP-MS (HG-ICP-MS) was used for mercury
and selenium analyses. All results were corrected for recovery.
Details of the methods of analysis and quality control procedures
have been reported previously.7
CSL participated in and had consistently demonstrated a satisfactory
performance in the appropriate rounds in FAPAS (Food Analysis Performance
Assessment Scheme) and was accredited by UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation
Service) for multi-element analysis of food.
The quality control criteria used are as follows:
- Three National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Certified Reference Materials (CRMs) were analysed with every
batch of samples [i.e. NIST 1547 (Peach Leaves), NIST 1566a (Oyster
tissue) and NIST 1577B (Bovine liver)]. Batches were rejected
if results for 2 of the 3 CRMs were not within 40 per cent of
the certified reference value.
- A calibration standard was analysed at the start and end of
each run. Batches were rejected if the re-measured standard was
outside of the original value by 20 per cent or more.
- 10 per cent of samples were run in duplicate in different batches.
Results of duplicate analyses had to have Relative Standard Deviations
(RSDs) of less than 25 per cent or differ by no more than 2 times
the limit of detection (LOD) whichever was greater.
- LODs were defined as 3 times the standard deviation of measured
values for reagent blanks after correction for typical sample
weight and dilution. The LODs for aluminium, arsenic, cadmium,
chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin and zinc
are given in Table 1.
Dietary exposure estimates
Two types of dietary exposures have been estimated from the results
of the 1997 TDS for aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper,
lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin and zinc:
- Population exposure estimates. These are based on consumption
data from the National Food Survey. These are compared with similarly
derived estimates from previous TDSs to follow trends in dietary
exposures of the general UK population.
- Consumer exposure estimates. These are estimates of dietary
exposures for individuals who eat average amounts of each food
group (i.e. mean consumers) and those who eat significantly more
than average [i.e. upper range (97.5th percentile) consumers]
and are based on consumption data from the Dietary and Nutritional
Survey of British Adults (Adults Survey).8
Exposure estimates (both mean and 97.5th percentile) of adult
consumers are used for comparison with the PTWIs and PMTDIs to
assess the risks to consumers.
The estimation of both these types of dietary exposures is discussed
in more detail below.
Population exposure estimates
The quantities of foods that make up the TDS and the relative proportion
of each food are largely based on an average of the available data
from three previous years of the National Food Survey and are updated
annually.5 For example, to determine
the amounts of foods making up the 1997 TDS, an average consumption
data of the 1993, 1994 and 1995 National Food Survey were used.
Multiplying the amounts of foods consumed (based on consumption
data from the appropriate years of the National Food Survey) by
the corresponding mean concentrations of metals and other elements
detected in each TDS food group gives an estimate of population
average exposure (covering both adults and children) for that year.
These estimates can be used to follow trends in exposure as they
take into account changes in both consumption of the various foods
making up the general UK diet and concentrations of metals and other
elements in these foods.
Concentrations of metals and other elements in 1997 TDS samples
are shown in Table 2. Population average
exposures based on these concentrations and consumption data from
the National Food Survey are shown in Table
3 and are compared with those from previous UK TDSs in Table
Consumer exposure estimates
Mean and 97.5th percentile exposures for aluminium, arsenic, cadmium,
chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel selenium, tin and zinc have
also been estimated for adult consumers using the mean concentrations
in each food group and consumption data from the Adults Survey (Table
3).8 Dietary exposures of adult
consumers have been estimated for comparison with the appropriate
PTWIs and PMTDIs (Table 5).
Consumer exposure estimates are less suitable for following trends
in exposure than population estimates as they are based on consumption
data from the Adults Survey which was carried only once in 1986
and 1987 and is not updated annually.8
They do not therefore take into account changes in consumption patterns
and only reflect changes in concentrations of metals and other elements.
However, consumer exposure estimates do take into account exposures
by individuals rather than the population as a whole, and also consider
those who consume above average amounts of food (i.e. 97.5th percentile
consumers). These estimates therefore provide more accurate assessments
of dietary exposures of individual consumers than population exposure
estimates for comparison with PTWIs and PMTDIs.
Unless stated otherwise, the mean concentrations and dietary exposures
reported in this Food Surveillance Information Sheet are all upper
bound values. This means that for those results less than the LODs,
it has been assumed that concentrations of the elements are equal
to the LODs.
Mean concentrations calculated from these results are known as
upper bound values. Dietary exposures estimated from these upper
bound mean concentrations are likely to be slight over estimates
The mean concentrations of aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
copper, lead, mercury, nickel selenium, tin and zinc found in each
food group from the 20 locations in the 1997 TDS for metals and
other elements are shown in Table 2. Population
average, and mean and 97.5th percentile consumer exposure estimates
are given in Table 3. Population average
exposures estimated from the results of the 1997 TDS are compared
with those from TDSs carried out since 1976 in Table
4. Estimates for mean and 97.5th percentile adult consumers
are compared with PTWIs and PMTDIs in Table
The concentrations detected and dietary exposures for each element
are discussed in detail in the Interpretation section.
The highest mean concentrations of aluminium were found in the Bread
(6.6 mg/kg) and Fish (6.1 mg/kg) groups (Table
2). These values are similar to the aluminium concentrations
found in these food groups in previous TDSs (e.g. in the 1994 TDS,
the Bread group had a mean aluminium concentration of 3.7 mg/kg
and in the 1991 TDS, 4.6 mg/kg).1,9
The mean aluminium concentration in the Miscellaneous cereals group
in the 1997 TDS (i.e. 5.2 mg/kg) was similar to that of the 1988
TDS (i.e. 4.8 mg/kg) but was considerably lower than the 1994 TDS
(i.e. 78 mg/kg) and 1991 TDS (i.e. 64 mg/kg).1,9,10
The relatively high aluminium concentrations found in the Miscellaneous
cereals group from the 1991 and 1994 TDSs were considered to be
caused by the presence of aluminium-containing additives which are
permitted for use in some of the bakery products included in the
Miscellaneous cereals group.1,9,11
The differences in concentrations between the 1988/1997 and
1991/1994 TDSs may be due to differences in the use of aluminium-containing
additives in bakery products and/or in the individual products included
in this food group in different years.
The average UK population dietary exposure to aluminium estimated
from the results of the 1997 TDS (i.e. 3.4 mg/day) was similar to
the 1988 TDS (i.e. 3.9 mg/day) but lower than those from the 1994
(i.e. 11 mg/day) and 1991 TDSs (i.e. 10 mg/day) (Table
4). These differences are due to the lower mean aluminium concentrations
in the Miscellaneous cereals group in 1988 and 1997 (Table
2). The food groups which made the greatest contributions to
dietary exposures of adult consumers in the 1997 TDS were Beverages
(35 per cent), Bread (21 per cent) and Miscellaneous cereals (16
per cent). Beverages make a major contribution to exposure owing
to the high rate of consumption of this food group rather than because
of high concentrations of aluminium. The presence of higher concentrations
in the Bread and Miscellaneous cereals groups combined with relatively
high rates of consumption helps to explain the large contribution
made by these groups to dietary exposure.
Exposure estimates of aluminium for mean (i.e. 3.2 mg/day) and
97.5th percentile (i.e. 5.7 mg/day) adult consumers from the 1997
TDS were lower than the JECFA PTWI of 7 mg/kg bodyweight which is
equivalent of 60 mg/day for a 60 kg adult (Table
5).12 Dietary exposure estimates
from the UK TDS were similar to those from other countries. Dietary
exposures to aluminium in the USA were reported to range from 0.7
mg/day in infants to 11.5 mg/day for 14 to 16 year old males.13
Dietary exposures from Italian TDSs were found to range between
2.3 mg/day and 6.3 mg/day.14
The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products
and the Environment (COT) considered the health implications from
aluminium in food on the basis of 1991 TDS exposure estimates (i.e.
10 mg/day as compared to the 1997 estimate of 3.4 mg/day) and concluded
that intakes, as estimated from average levels in food
in the UK, are not a cause for toxicological concern.1
In an earlier statement, the COT noted that the
relationship between aluminium and Alzheimers disease remains
unclear and is the subject of continuing research. There is no evidence
that aluminium in food affects the occurrence of Alzheimers
Arsenic is present in food in different forms (species) which vary
in toxicity with inorganic forms being the most toxic. This is reflected
in the JECFA PTWI (of 0.015 mg/kg bodyweight) which applies to inorganic
arsenic only.12 Most of the arsenic
in the diet is present in the less toxic organic forms.15,16
However, it is difficult to distinguish analytically between the
different forms of arsenic in food, and for this reason most surveys
including this one have measured total arsenic. A JFSSG-funded project
is being carried out by CSL to develop a method suitable for the
routine determination of the different forms of arsenic in food.
If this project is successful, the method developed will be used
to analyse samples from a future UK TDS to allow the estimation
of dietary exposures to inorganic arsenic. This will allow direct
comparisons to be made with the PMTDI for inorganic arsenic and
more accurate assessment of the risks to health.
The population exposure of total arsenic estimated from the results
of the 1997 TDS was 0.065 mg/day (Table 3).
This is similar to population dietary exposures from previous TDSs
(Table 4). The Fish group made the greatest
contribution to population dietary exposure (i.e. 94 per cent) and
also had the highest mean arsenic concentration (i.e. 4.4 mg/kg)
(Tables 2 and 3).
Dietary exposure estimates to total arsenic for mean and 97.5th
percentile adult consumers were 0.12 mg/day and 0.42 mg/day respectively.
Although these values are similar to or greater than the PMTDI for
inorganic arsenic, which is equivalent to 0.13 mg/day for a 60 kg
adult (Table 5),12
it should be noted that they refer to total arsenic and that most
of the arsenic present in the diet is in the less toxic organic
The COT considered 1991 TDS dietary exposure estimates, which are
similar to 1997 TDS estimates, concluding that such levels are not
a cause for toxicological concern.1
Dietary exposures to total arsenic have also been estimated for
other countries. Two TDSs carried out in the USA in 1990, and 1986
to 1991 found mean total arsenic exposures for adults of 0.051 mg/day
and 0.038 mg/day respectively,17,18
the average exposure of Canadian adults from a TDS carried out between
1985 and 1988 was 0.047 mg/day,19
exposure of male adults in New Zealand was estimated to be 0.15
mg/day,20 a survey carried out in
the Basque Country (Spain) in 1990 and 1991 found a mean total arsenic
exposure of 0.286 mg/day,21 and
a duplicate diet study of Japanese adults reported an exposure of
Cadmium is present at low concentrations in most foods, with those
that are consumed in larger quantities making the greatest contributions
to population dietary exposure (i.e. 0.012 mg/day in the 1997 TDS).
For example, in the 1997 TDS, cadmium concentrations were highest
in the Offals (i.e. 0.077 mg/kg) and Nuts (i.e. 0.059 mg/kg) groups,
while the Bread and Potatoes groups made the greatest contributions
(i.e. both 25 per cent) to dietary exposure of the general population
(Tables 2 and 3).
The dietary exposure of the general UK population estimated from
the results of the 1997 TDS was slightly lower than those of previous
years (e.g. 0.014 mg/day in the 1994 TDS and 0.018 mg/day in the
1991 TDS) (Table 4).2,9
Dietary exposures of mean and 97.5th percentile adult consumers
were estimated from the results of the 1997 TDS to be 0.014 mg/day
and 0.024 mg/day respectively (Table 3).
These values are below the JECFA PTWI of 0.007 mg/kg bodyweight
which is equivalent to 0.06 mg/day for a 60 kg person (Table
5).23 Smoking tobacco can also
contribute to cadmium exposure. Smoking 20 cigarettes per day will
result in inhalation of 2 micrograms to 4 micrograms of cadmium.24
The COT commented in 1995 that the intake of cadmium is
below levels known to cause renal toxicity, although we note that
the margin between average cadmium intakes and levels associated
with toxicity is smaller than for most other metals. We are reassured
that the average dietary intake of cadmium did not increase between
1982 and 1991, as we would view any increase with concern. We note
that cadmium is recognised as a human carcinogen via inhalation
of cadmium dusts and fumes in the workplace. There is inadequate
evidence to assess the carcinogenicity of dietary cadmium.
Dietary exposures to cadmium of UK consumers estimated from the
results of the 1997 TDS are within the range found in the European
Union (EU). A study carried out by the European Commission in 1995
and 1996 found that dietary exposures to cadmium in the 15 Member
States of the EU ranged from 0.007 mg/day to 0.057 mg/day.25
Dietary exposure estimates have also been reported for
the USA (i.e. 0.015 mg/day),17 Canada
(i.e. 0.024 mg/day),26 New Zealand
(i.e. 0.028 mg/day for adult males),20
and Egypt (i.e. 0.24 mg/day).27
Most of the chromium present in food is in the trivalent form (Cr3+)
which is an essential nutrient.2
To prevent deficiency, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food
Policy (COMA) has recommended that chromium intakes should be above
0.025 mg/day for adults and between 0.1 to 1.0 micrograms/kg bodyweight/day
for children and adolescents.28
The COMA also noted that no adverse effects had been observed from
trivalent chromium. Although the hexavalent form of chromium (Cr6+)
is more toxic, it is not normally found in food.2
The UK population exposure to chromium was estimated from the results
of the 1997 TDS to be 0.1 mg/day. Dietary exposures of mean and
97.5th percentile adult consumers were estimated to be 0.1 mg/day
and 0.17 mg/day respectively (Table 3).
The JECFA have not set a PTWI for chromium. However, these dietary
exposure estimates are similar to levels that the COT considered
in 1995 did not warrant any major concern in terms of toxicity,
This population exposure to chromium estimated from the 1997 TDS
is lower than that from the 1994 TDS which was unexpectedly high
(i.e. 0.34 mg/day) (Table 4).9
The high population exposure estimate from the 1994 TDS was caused
by relatively high chromium concentrations in the Oils and fats,
Milk, Dairy produce and Nuts groups.9
Chromium concentrations in these and other food groups in the 1997
TDS are similar to TDSs carried out before 1994.2,9
The relatively high concentrations and exposure estimate from the
1994 TDS appear to be unique to that year and not part of a trend
of increasing exposure to chromium of the UK population.
Copper is an essential element, but can be toxic at high levels
of exposure. To reflect this, the COMA has recommended a Reference
Nutrient Intake (RNI - enough, or more than enough for about 97
per cent of people in a population) for adults of 1.2 mg/day and
JECFA has recommended a PMTDI of 0.5 mg/kg body weight (i.e. is
equivalent to 30 mg/day for a 60 kg person).28,29
Copper is present in most foods with offals and nuts containing
the highest concentrations. For example in the 1997 TDS, mean copper
concentrations in the Nuts and Offals groups were 8.5 mg/kg and
50 mg/kg respectively while mean concentrations in the other food
groups ranged from 0.05 mg/kg to 2.1 mg/kg (Table
Dietary exposures to copper for the general UK population have
remained relatively constant. The UK population dietary exposure
estimated from the 1997 TDS was 1.2 mg/day which is equal to the
population dietary exposure estimated from the 1994 TDS (Table
4) and is similar to the copper intake (i.e. 1.01 mg/day) from
the 1997 National Food Survey.5,9
Dietary exposures for mean and 97.5th percentile adult consumers
estimated from the 1997 TDS were 1.4 mg/day and 3.2 mg/day respectively.
These values are below the PMTDI and approximately equal to the
RNI and so are not a concern in terms of toxicity, or deficiency
Exposure to lead is of concern mainly because of possible detrimental
effects on intelligence. Studies have indicated an adverse effect
of low-level lead exposure neuropsychological development.30
For example, it has been reported that a doubling of blood lead
levels (from 10 to 20 micrograms/dl) is associated with a reduction
in Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of around one to two IQ points.31
It is UK Government policy to reduce human exposure wherever practical
and, more specifically, to reduce blood lead levels in children
to below 10 micrograms/dl. Food is one of the major sources of lead
exposure in the UK, the others are air (mainly lead dust originating
from petrol) and drinking water. Exposure from these three sources
has been reduced. This has been demonstrated by a marked reduction
in blood lead levels over the past 15 years. Blood lead levels for
the majority of the UK population are now below 10 micrograms/dl,32
and the mean blood lead level in children aged 31 months (this is
the age when a childs exposure to lead is considered to be
highest) is 3.44 micrograms/dl.33
Dietary exposures of the general UK population have declined from
0.12 mg/day estimated in the 1980 TDS to 0.026 mg/day in the 1997
TDS (Table 4). The cause of this decrease
can be partly attributed to a lowering of the LOD from, for example,
0.05 mg/kg in the 1988 TDS to 0.0006 mg/kg - 0.005 mg/kg in the
1997 TDS (Table 1).1
However, an actual decrease in exposure is also evident. Lower-bound
population exposure estimates, in which results less than the LOD
are assumed to be zero, fell from 0.036 mg/day in the 1982 TDS to
0.024 mg/day in 1997.34 This decrease
in dietary exposure reflects the success of measures taken to reduce
lead exposure and contamination of food (e.g. lead-free petrol,
greater use of welded cans, the banning of lead seals on wine bottles,
etc.). Similar reductions in dietary exposure to lead have also
been reported in other countries.35,36
The mean lead concentration in the Green vegetables group in the
1997 was unexpectedly high at 0.061 mg/kg (Table
2). In comparison, the median concentration was 0.0065 mg/kg.
An unusually high lead level in the Green vegetables group sample
from one of the 20 locations was the cause of the disparity between
the mean and median concentrations. This sample had a lead concentration
of 1.0 mg/kg and also had the highest concentrations in the Green
vegetables group of aluminium (i.e. 19 mg/kg), zinc (i.e. 8.3 mg/kg),
arsenic (i.e. 0.02 mg/kg) and cadmium (i.e. 0.32 mg/kg). CSL carried
out several repeat analyses of the homogenised sample provided to
check these results. The presence of these elements at higher than
average concentrations indicates contamination of the sample at
some stage of the study. The relatively high mean lead concentration
in the 1997 TDS has little influence on dietary exposure estimates
as this food group makes little contribution (i.e. 8 per cent) to
the dietary exposure estimate of the general population.
The Offals group contained the highest lead concentrations (i.e.
0.09 mg/kg) in the 1997 TDS (Table 2),
but the Beverages group made the greatest contribution to dietary
exposure of the general population (i.e. 54 per cent of total exposure).
This is because of the high levels of consumption of the latter
food group rather than the presence of high concentrations of lead.
Dietary exposures of mean and 97.5th percentile adult consumers
were 0.024 mg/day and 0.043 mg/day respectively and below the JECFA
PTWI which is equivalent to 0.21 mg/day for a 60 kg person (Tables
3 and 5).23
The PTWI for lead on 0.025 mg/kg bodyweight was maintained by JECFA
at it 53rd meeting held in Rome in June 1999. Dietary exposures
to lead in the UK are similar to those reported in the USA (i.e.
0.015 mg/day),17 Canada (i.e. 0.024
mg/day),26 The Netherlands (i.e.
0.01 mg/day to 0.032 mg/day),37 New
Zealand (i.e. 0.033 mg/day for adult males),20
and Spain (i.e. 0.039 mg/day).21
The COT reviewed the toxicity of lead in 1995 and stated that we
welcome the decline in lead levels compared with earlier surveys.
It is encouraging that measures taken to reduce lead contamination
of food and the environment appear to be reducing the average dietary
intake of lead in the UK, although we recognise that changes in
the preparation and analysis of the Total diet may be responsible
for part of this apparent decline. Since it is not possible to identify,
from epidemiological studies, a threshold for the association between
exposure to lead and decrements in IQ, efforts should continue to
reduce lead exposure from all sources. 1
The main sources of exposure to mercury (apart from occupational
sources) are from the diet and dental amalgam.40,41
Mercury is present in food naturally (e.g. in fish which take up
mercury from marine sediments), or as a result of pollution (e.g.
emissions from industrial processes, fossil fuel combustion).2
The main dietary source of mercury is fish and this has lead to
recent interest in the potential effects of exposure to mercury
on the neurological development of children from populations (i.e.
Faeroe Islands, Republic of the Seychelles) with high rates of fish
Exposure to mercury from dental amalgam is mainly to the metallic
and inorganic forms of the element which are considered to be less
toxic than the organic forms of mercury. Most of the mercury in
food is present as methyl mercury or other organic forms.2
This is reflected in the JECFA PTWI for mercury of 300 micrograms/person
(equivalent to 0.043 mg/day for a 60 kg person), of which not more
than 200 micrograms should be methyl mercury.40
This methyl mercury PTWI of 0.0033 mg/kg bodyweight was maintained
by JECFA at it 53rd meeting held in Rome in June 1999. To assess
the risks to health from mercury in food it would be preferable
to detect and thus estimate dietary exposures to both total mercury
and methyl mercury. However, there is no suitable analytical method
to routinely and accurately detect methyl mercury in food, and for
this reason JFSSG surveys including the TDS, have measured total
mercury concentrations. A JFSSG-funded research project is currently
underway at the University of Plymouth to develop such an analytical
Dietary exposure of the general UK population to mercury, estimated
from the results of the 1997 TDS, was 0.003 mg/day (Table
3). The Fish group contained the highest concentrations of mercury
(i.e. 0.043 mg/kg) (Table 2) and made the
greatest contribution (i.e. 33 per cent) to population dietary exposure.
Mercury concentrations in the other food groups were very low. The
population exposure to mercury estimated from the 1997 TDS was very
similar to those from previous TDSs (Table
4). Dietary exposure estimates of mean and 97.5th percentile
adult consumers were 0.0031 mg/day and 0.0064 mg/day respectively.
These exposure estimates are both well within the PTWI for mercury
and methyl mercury.40 Therefore,
the estimated mean and 97.5th percentile dietary exposures for adults
to mercury do not give cause for toxicological concern (Table
5). Dietary exposures estimated from the UK TDS are similar
to those from the USA (i.e. 0.008 mg/day),17
and The Netherlands (i.e. 0.002 mg/day),37
but lower than those of the Basque Country of Spain (i.e. 0.018
mg/day),21 New Zealand (i.e. 0.013
mg/day for adult males),20 and Egypt
(i.e. 0.078 mg/day).27
The population dietary exposure estimated from the 1997 TDS (i.e.
0.13 mg/day) was the same as that from the 1994 TDS (Table
4). Dietary exposure estimates for mean and 97.5th percentile
adult consumers were 0.12 mg/day and 0.21 mg/day respectively (Table
3). JECFA has not recommended a PTWI for nickel but the World
Health Organization (WHO) has set a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI)
of 5 micrograms/kg bodyweight (equivalent to 0.3 mg/day for a 60
Nickel has not been demonstrated to be an essential nutrient for
humans but is considered to be a normal constituent of the diet.
However, there are adverse health effects associated with nickel.
Contact with nickel (e.g. from long-term contact with nickel containing
jewellery) can cause dermatitis in sensitised individuals. The COT
reviewed the toxicity of nickel in 1995 and concluded: nickel
is ubiquitous in the diet and we consider that the nickel content
of food would be difficult to restrict. The levels of nickel in
the diet are not a cause of concern other than for individuals sensitised
to nickel, a few of whom may react adversely to nickel in food.
There is limited evidence to suggest that, in these subjects, a
diet low in nickel may reduce symptoms. 1
Selenium is an essential element for humans. The COMA has recommended
RNIs of 0.06 mg/day in women and 0.075 mg/day in men.28
The COMA has also recommended that the safe maximum exposure from
all sources should be 0.45 mg/day for adult males.28
Concerns have been raised that intakes of selenium in the UK are
The JFSSG has previously estimated population dietary exposures
of 0.063 mg/day and 0.06 mg/day in the 1985 and 1991 TDSs respectively,
0.043 mg/day in 1994, and 0.039 mg/day in the 1995 TDS (Table 4).2,9,44
Dietary exposures for the UK population have also been estimated
in other studies and reported to be 0.06 mg/day (1974) and 0.034
The COMA considered the nutritional implications of selenium exposures
estimated from the results of the 1994 and 1995 TDSs in 1997 and
agreed that (i) there is, at present, no evidence of adverse
health consequences from current intakes; (ii) monitoring of selenium
intakes and measurements of selenium status should continue; and
(iii) further research should be encouraged to investigate whether
the current levels of intake are adequate, and whether the body
adapts to changing intakes. 44,47
The general UK population dietary exposure estimated from the 1997
TDS was 0.039 mg/day (Table 3). This is
the same as the population exposure estimated from the 1995 TDS
and similar to that from the 1994 TDS (i.e. 0.043 mg/day) but is
at the lower end of the reference range for adults recommended by
the COMA (i.e. 0.04 mg/day). (It should be noted that dietary exposure
estimates for selenium from the 1995 TDS are not directly comparable
with those from other years as they are based on analyses of composite
samples of each food from all the towns in the TDS rather than the
upper bound mean concentrations of analyses of each food group from
each town.) Population dietary exposures estimated from lower bound
mean concentrations (in which concentrations below the LOD are assumed
to be zero) were 0.053 mg/day, 0.041 mg/day and 0.039 mg/day in
the 1991, 1994 and 1997 TDSs respectively. These results indicate
that there has not been a decline in selenium intakes in recent
years, but confirm that selenium intakes are now lower than those
estimated from the 1991 and 1985 TDSs (Table
Dietary exposures of mean and 97.5th percentile adult consumers
estimated from the results of the 1997 TDS were 0.054 mg/day and
0.1 mg/day respectively (Table 3). These
exposure estimates are below the safe maximum exposure recommended
by the COMA.28 The COT considered
the toxicity of selenium in 1995 and concluded that dietary intakes
of selenium, of which average intakes were then estimated at 0.06
mg/day, are not a concern in terms of toxicity, or deficiency.2
High concentrations of tin in food can irritate the gastrointestinal
tract and may cause stomach upsets in some individuals. These short-term
effects may occur in some individuals at tin concentrations above
200 mg/kg. Long-term effects are not expected from tin in the diet.2
As there are health concerns regarding high concentrations of tin,
the Tin in Food Regulations 1992 limit the maximum amount
of tin in foods sold in the UK to 200 mg/kg.48
The COT has supported this limit, which is intended to protect consumers
against the potential short-term health effects caused by tin. The
JECFA has recommended a PTWI for tin of 14 mg/kg body weight/week
to protect against the risk of any long-term effects.40
Most foods contain very low concentrations of tin, usually below
10 mg/kg, although canned foods may contain higher concentrations
as a result of the slow dissolution of the tin coating used on the
inside of some food cans to protect the steel body of the can from
corrosion.49 In the 1997 TDS, tin
concentrations in all the food groups were below 0.1 mg/kg, except
for Canned vegetables (41 mg/kg tin) and Fruit products (which include
canned fruits; 7.2 mg/kg tin) (Table 2).
Together, Canned vegetables and Fruit products accounted for 94
per cent of the UK population dietary exposure to tin of 1.8 mg/day
(Table 3). Dietary exposure estimates for
mean and 97.5th percentile adult consumers were 1.9 mg/day and 6.3
mg/day respectively and thus much lower than the PTWI which is equivalent
to 120 mg/day for a 60 kg person (Table 5).40
Therefore, dietary exposures to tin are not a cause for concern.
Zinc is an essential element for human health and the COMA has recommended
RNIs of 9.5 mg/day and 7.0 mg/day for adult males and females respectively.28
However, high levels of exposure to zinc can be harmful and JECFA
has recommended a PMTDI of 60 mg/day.50
Dietary exposures of mean and 97.5th percentile adult consumers
estimated from the results of the 1997 TDS were 11 mg/day and 20
mg/day respectively which are within the PMTDI (Tables 3
Zinc exposure of the general UK population was estimated from the
results of the 1997 TDS to be 8.4 mg/day. This is the same as the
general population exposure estimate from the 1994 TDS (Table
4), and is comparable to the intake from the 1997 National Food
Survey of 7.7 mg/day.5,9
Zinc concentrations were highest in the Carcass meat and Offals
groups (i.e. both 52 mg/kg) of the 1997 TDS and these food groups
contributed 14 per cent to total dietary exposure (Table
The COT considered the toxicity of zinc in 1995 and concluded that
the estimated average daily intake of zinc from food and
beverages (10-12 mg) which is more than adequate for the nutritional
needs of most people.28 Excessive
supplementation of the diet with zinc salts interferes with absorption
of copper and iron from the diet, and may result in anaemia. One
study indicated that the early stages of this process may be detectable
even at total daily intakes as low as 18.5 mg, when zinc salts were
added to a diet deficient in zinc.51
Some people exceed this daily intake from food and beverages alone,
but there is no evidence that their health is at risk as a result.
However, supplementation of the diet with zinc preparations in unnecessary
and unwise, unless there is good evidence of deficiency.
Analyses of 1997 TDS samples for bromine, fluorine and iodine are
being carried out. Dietary exposure estimates for these elements
will be considered by the COT. These results and the COTs
conclusions will be released in a future Food Surveillance Information
The JFSSG has issued a competitive tender for the analysis of inorganic
and total arsenic concentrations in samples from the 1999 TDS.52
The results of these analyses will be used to estimate dietary exposures
to inorganic arsenic for comparison with those for total arsenic
and the PMTDI for inorganic arsenic. This information will allow
more accurate assessment of the risks to consumers from arsenic
in food than has previously been possible.
It is planned that analyses for metals and other elements will
be carried out on samples from the 2000 TDS. Dietary exposures estimated
from these results will be used to continue to monitor trends in
exposure (e.g. for lead and selenium) and assess the risks to UK
consumers from these elements in food.
Dietary exposures for the general UK population to aluminium, arsenic,
cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin
and zinc estimated from the results of the 1997 TDS are similar
to or lower than those from previous years. Exposure estimates for
individual adult consumers are lower than the relevant PMTDIs, PTWIs
and TDIs. In 1995 the COT considered both the mean and 97.5th percentile
estimated exposures of these 11 elements in the diet and advised
that dietary exposures of these elements are not a cause for concern.
However, the COT noted that the margin between mean cadmium exposures
and levels associated with toxicity is smaller than for most other
metals. Therefore, it is reassuring to note that dietary exposures
to cadmium have not increased since 1982. Average daily exposures
to zinc from food are more than adequate for the nutritional needs
of most people and the COT regard that supplementation of the diet
with zinc preparations as unnecessary or unwise, unless there is
good evidence of deficiency.
Glossary of terms
||Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy
||Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products
and the Environment
||Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization
||Limit of detection
||Provisional Maximum Tolerable Daily Intake
||Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake
||Reference Nutrient Intake
||Tolerable Daily Intake
||Total Diet Study
||World Health Organization
Summary of units
||one thousand grams
||one thousandth of a gram
||one millionth of a gram
||one tenth of a litre
||milligrams per kilogram (equivalent to parts per
||milligrams per day
||micrograms per day
|micrograms/kg body weight
||micrograms per kilogram body weight
||micrograms per decilitre
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(1998). Lead, Arsenic and other Metals in Food. Food Surveillance
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Further information on this survey can be obtained from:
Dr Patrick Miller
MAFF, Joint Food Safety and Standards Group,
Food Contaminants Division
Room 238, Ergon House, c/o Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR, UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7238 5751
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7238 5331
Further copies of this and other Food Surveillance Information
Sheets can be obtained from:
MAFF, Joint Food Safety and Standards Group, Publicity and Information
Room 303B, Ergon House, c/o Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London, SW1P 3JR, UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7238 6223
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7238 6330
Copies of COT statements can be obtained from:
Mr Jonathan Lighthill
Room 652C, Skipton House
80 London Road
London SE1 6LW, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7972 5007
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7972 5134
This material is Crown Copyright but may be reproduced without
formal permission or charge for personal or in-house use ©
Crown Copyright 1999.
These pages were last updated on 29 October 1999.