Food products can be contaminated by various causes and processes throughout the food chain from production to consumption. This generally has a negative effect on the quality of the foodstuff and may imply a health risk. Therefore, it is essential for the protection of public health to ensure that contaminants levels are kept at acceptable levels from a toxicological point of view. This concern has resulted in an ever-increasing volume of legislation on this subject, which affects the manufacture of food products and their placing on the international market.

This Survey is designed as a reference document to assist all those who need to comply with the technical legislation on certain contaminants in foodstuffs. Owing to the large volume of legislation, the Survey will be published in 2 parts, covering separate geographical areas. This is Part 1 of the ‘Contaminants in Foodstuffs – An International Review of Maximum Limits’ Survey.


This work is a compilation of worldwide legislation on contaminants, where this is laid down in official technical food legislation, and includes information on:


  • heavy metals;
  • other elements and inorganic compounds (e.g. nitrates);
  • halogenated organic compounds (e.g. PCBs);
  • other organic compounds (e.g. PAHs);
  • mycotoxins (e.g. aflatoxins); and
  • other toxins and contaminants (e.g. plant and animal-inherent toxins).

The approach to controlling contaminants in foodstuffs differs from one country to another. This is reflected in the Survey, although a presentation that is uniform throughout the Survey is sought.


Where no information for a contaminant, or a food product, is included, this means that no restrictions are laid down in the legislation. Many countries do not have provisions for specific contaminants in foods but do have legal provisions prohibiting the sale of any food considered to be unwholesome or potentially injurious to human health. The effect is to prohibit the sale of foods containing unacceptable levels of contaminants.


It is not the intention of this Survey to include information relating to residues of contaminants, such as hormones, pesticides, veterinary drugs, microbiological contamination in foodstuffs. Similarly, contaminants in animal feed, food additives, food flavourings and processing aids, e.g. extraction solvents, are outside the scope of this work.


Format of the Survey

The introductory pages for each country explains briefly how contaminants are regulated, and include reference to the relevant legislation. In order to assist quick reference, tables with maximum levels for contaminants in foods have been set for each country. A section with full references to the corresponding legal documents is also provided for each country.


 The Survey starts with information relating to contaminants in FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius provisions and at European Community level. Countries are then listed alphabetically, each with an individual page numbering system.


The European Community section of this Survey should be used in conjunction with the information provided for individual European Union Member States.


Finally, Contaminants in Foodstuffs – An International Review of Maximum Limits will be updated on a regular basis. The loose-leaf nature of the Survey allows for easy and timely updating – simply replace the old pages with new updated text.


The following are the 15 Member States of the EC:























Austria Germany Netherlands
Belgium Greece Portugal
Denmark Ireland Spain
Finland Italy Sweden
France Luxembourg United Kingdom

Chemical symbols


Metals are represented in the tables by their chemical symbols, as follows:
















































Antimony Sb Manganese Mn
Arsenic As Mercury Hg
Barium Ba Nickel Ni
Cadmium Cd Selenium Se
Chromium Cr Silver Ag
Cobalt Co Thallium Tl
Copper Cu Tin Sn
Iron Fe Zinc Zn
Lead Pb    

Contaminants in Foodstuffs – Volume 1′ report was published in December 1999 by Leatherhead Food RA, to order your copy please click here


Details of reports from Leatherhead Food RA click here