Metals in foods

Metals can accumulate in food from natural sources in the environment or because of anthropogenic emissions. The term heavy metals is commonly used colloquially for various metals and semi-metals that are harmful to the environment and health.

Metals are elements and occur naturally in the earth’s crust. They are released naturally into the environment through, for example, volcanic eruptions or crustal erosion. Metal emissions are also caused by human activities, such as mining, industrial emissions, the use of fossil fuels and the incineration of waste. At sufficiently high concentrations, metals have adverse effects on human health.

Nowadays, anthropogenic emissions are strictly limited and controlled by environmental legislation. The main metals with regard to food safety include mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic. Metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin compounds and inorganic arsenic) in food are subject to maximum levels allowed by EU legislation (Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as amended)

Page last updated 6/8/2020