Environmental Contaminants in Foodstuff

Food may be contaminated with many chemicals from the environment that pose the potential for toxicological consequences in humans consuming the contaminated food items. One of the main objectives of Hungarian Food Safety Program: Decrease of contamination of raw materials deriving from the environment. Keeping the environmental contamination at the possible lowest level is basic condition of producing safe foods. Lowering the level of contaminating, poisoning materials present in soil, air and water build into the vegetable and animal organism and their elimination in the course of food manufacture is difficult or impossible. The contamination of environmental origin gets into the human organism and causes diseases. This article discusses how this type of food contaminants enter the food supply, the types of food items in which they are most likely to occur, and the potential toxicological consequences resulting from exposure to these contaminants. The main groups of chemical contaminants that can be found in food share the following characteristics: they are not intentionally added to food; contamination can happen at one or more stages in food production; illness is likely to result if consumers ingest enough of them. The environmental contaminants are a group of substances with quite diverse chemical structures that exhibit common characteristics in terms of behaviour. These substances tend to be stable and thus persistent in the environment; they tend to bioaccumulate in food chain and can be transformed with increased toxicity. To control environmental pollution and protect humans and animals from the hazards of environmental contaminants a concept of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) has emerged .

Toxic Metals and Elements
Lead is ubiquitous in an industrial environment. Ingestion or inhalation occurs as a result of environmental contamination, including food and water. People with certain macronutrient and micronutrient deficiences are prone to experience increased absorption of lead in the diet. Adults may normally absorb approximately 15% of their lead intake, pregnant women and children may absorb up to 3.5 times that amount. Toxic effects of lead involve the nervous system, the liver, gene function, the composition of circulating blood, kidney function, the vitamin D endocrine system and bone.

Cadmium: Humans can be exposed to cadmium through either diet or industrial contact. Toxic manifestations of cadmium ingestion include renal dysfunction, osteoporosis and bone pain, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, anemia, and bone marrow involvement. Only 2-8% of dietary cadmium is absorbed and significant cadmium ingestion is accompanied by vomiting. There is epidemiological evidence that cadmium exposure may be carcinogenic. Cadmium accumulates in lower marine life, such as plankton, molluscs, and shellfish, and continues through the food chain as these organisms are consumed. However, cadmium is toxic to fish and fish embrios. Cadmium is take up by the leaves and roots of plants (vegetables), so those near industrial sources may be very high in cadmium.

Mercury: The primary portal of mercury contamination of food is via its industrial release into water, either fresh or salt water, and its conversion to methylmercury by methanogenic bacteria. With regard to toxicity, mercury affects the skin, kidneys, nervous system, and marrow, with consequent effects on the blood cells, immune sysem, and bone formation. Seafood is probably the primary source of dietary contamination with mercury [6]. People with regular diet of fish containing high levels of organic mercury, or shellfish containing inorganic mercury, are at greatest risks.

Arsenic is widely distributed throughout the earth and reaches food sources. Arsenic is present in food in different forms (species) which vary in toxicity, with inorganic forms considered to be the most toxic. Arsenic compounds have occurred in seafood, eggs, and cheese. Most arsenic in the diet is present in the less toxic organic forms. Chronic poisoning from arsenic is unusual unless it occurs naturally in the water supply Inorganic arsenic is a documented human carcinogen. Foodstuffs that have been mentioned as important source of inorganic arsenic: rice, seaweek (especially hijiki seaweed), drinking water. To be considered also baby food on rice basis.

Regulation of Chemical Contaminants in Foods Enhanced food safety problems and the increase in international trade in food are important factors that drive international regulation of contaminants in food. Authorities respond to consumers concerns by more stringent food safety assurance systems, including both lower maximum limits and more efficient control, but also self-control and certification control systems. The Joint FAO/WHO Food Standard Programme and the Codex Alimentarius Commission elaborate international food standards and codes of practice for questions related to food. It has also stimulated work on general code of practice for source-directed measures to reduce contamination. Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food (CCCF) is working on setting maximum limits, developing recommendations for contaminants. In the European Union (EU) the responsibility for initiating work on legislation on heavy metals, nitrate, pesticide residues, mycotoxins, etc. rests with the Commissions’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection. All Community legislation are published in the Official Journal of the European Communities – including the maximum limit regulations (e.g. 1881/2006/EK Regulation).

Current and Future Trends
The control of chemical contamination of food is clearly developing. Important part of this process is the international harmonisation of controls. Main goal of the National Food Safety Program of Hungary is to ensure a high level of human health and consumer protection by enhanced food safety. The key is to ensure that action is taken when problems are found. Main options are: control the availability and usage of manmade contaminants limit or eliminate the source of contamination, police limits, advise, halt the supply of contaminated food. The society shall take every reasonable and realisable measure to reveal and decrease environmental contamination influencing food safety and prevent formation of a new one.

By – Assistant Professor – Inderpal Mutneja
Department of Agriculture
Magazine (YouthRainBow)- Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital
Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital
Uttaranchal College of Education
College Of Nursing UCBMSH

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