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Aflatoxin found in Chilli - no significant risk

THE Ministry of Health today confirmed that the level of Aflatoxin identified in an Australian survey of chilli, paprika and other chilli products poses no significant public health risk.

The study by the University of Adelaide found that 80 percent of the chilli, paprika and other chilli products sold in Australia breached the current Aflatoxin contamination limit of five parts per billion (five micrograms per kilogram).

Chief Advisor Safety and Regulation Dr Bob Boyd said it's important to note that the limit of five parts per billion is an old standard and is for food in general. It is not based on any toxicological evidence.

"Under the Food Act 1981 and the Food Regulations 1984 there are no specific limits for Aflatoxins in spices because the risk is so low. In this situation, the general food limit of five parts per billion, therefore applies.

"Similarly, the proposed joint ANZFA Food Code, currently being finalised for ministerial approval, sets no limit for Aflatoxins in spices. "

ANZFA will monitor the situation over the next 12 months to consider if a change to the food code is required.

Dr Boyd said that although the study focused on chilli imported to Australia, the Ministry of Health will be working with the Australia New Zealand Food Authority to determine what regulatory action, if any, is required in New Zealand.


Background Information

What are Aflatoxins? They are a series of naturally occurring contaminants found a wide range of plant products and are linked to liver cancer. Aflatoxins result from fungal contamination during growth or after harvesting commonly due to drought, insect damage or poor storage conditions. They are most often associated with peanuts, maize, rice, Brazil, pistachio and other nuts. Maximum levels are set in food legislation for peanut and peanut products.

What are the risks posed by Aflatoxins? Aflatoxins are associated with liver cancer. In cases of long-term exposure, Aflatoxins are known to promote liver cancer in people with pre-existing liver disease.

What is the current testing regime for spices in New Zealand Bacterial contamination of spices has been an issue in the past, so systems have been introduced to monitor spices for bacteria. Manufacturers of imported spices are required to produce evidence that high risk spices including paprika, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg are not contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella. In addition, random monitoring is undertaken to ensure spices comply.

Why is there no requirement to test spices for aflatoxins? The testing of imported chilli or paprika for aflatoxin has not been recommended in the past, because it was not considered to be a public health and safety risk based on the available evidence at the time

How does the Food Act relate to the monitoring of spices? Food standards and regulations are made under the Food Act 1981. The Food Act 1981 prohibits the sale of unfit food. The Food Regulations 1984 includes a maximum aflatoxin limit of five parts per billion for general food products, but no specific level for spices.

The Ministry aims to ensure that risky foods are monitored to protect the public health, including imported food. It is undertaken on a planned programme. The Act and Food Regulations 1984 require persons who import or handle a high risk food (as listed in the NZ (Mandatory) Food Standard 1997 (Prescribed foods) to provide appropriate evidence that the risks associated with a prescribed food have been controlled. For example, the presence of Aflatoxins in peanuts and peanut butter must be below levels stated in the Food Regulations. The limit for Aflatoxins in peanuts has been set at 15 parts per billion. High risk spices, including paprika, are subjected to controls for risks due to microbiologoical contamination.


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