The average New Zealand diet presents no chemical residue food safety concerns

Wednesday, 19 August, 2009


The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) has released the first quarter results for the Total Diet Study (TDS). The five-yearly study tests more than 120 commonly eaten foods and estimates New Zealanders’ dietary exposure to chemical residues, contaminants and selected nutrients.

Foods tested for the study are split into two groups - those from the regions and those available nationally. The first quarter tested 61 regional foods from supermarkets and shops in Auckland, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin in January and February. They were prepared ready for consumption by ESR in Christchurch before being sent to RJ Hill Laboratories in Hamilton for analysis.

While the survey is not intended to be a compliance survey, any issues of non-compliance with allowable limits for residues or contaminants are acted upon.

“So far, the results are extremely pleasing and reaffirm that residues in food are not a problem in New Zealand,” project manager Cherie Flynn said. “From 60,000 analyses, there were just two areas we had another look at.”

One was a non-compliance in tomatoes from Napier, where the pesticide azaconazole was found at slightly above the maximum residue limit of 0.05 mg/kg.

“Maximum residue limits are not safety limits, ­ which are in most cases hundreds of times higher, ­ but rather an indicator of good agricultural practice. The level found in the tomatoes does not pose a food safety or health concern but it does highlight the need for growers to ensure they follow good agricultural practice.”

The other was higher than expected levels of lead in breads from Napier.

“Again, the levels did not pose a health concern. Our assessments showed that even a large daily bread eater would only be exposed to around 10% of the safe weekly intake of lead,” Flynn said.

“New Zealand has one of the lowest exposures to lead in the world and it is important we keep it that way. We will be keeping an eye on lead compliance in the next quarter results and, if it seems to be an issue that needs more investigation, we will consider including grains in the next round of the Food Residues Surveillance Programme (FRSP).”

The FRSP is an annual study that assesses the effectiveness of chemical residue controls on imported and locally produced foods.

In January, the Environmental Risk Management Authority prohibited the use of the insecticide endosulfan. As this was during the first quarter food collection period, Flynn says they found traces of the insecticide in some produce. However, the low levels found indicate the insecticide was highly unlikely to have been used after the prohibition date.

Flynn said it was good to see the high standards observed in earlier surveys and monitoring programs continuing.

“Once again New Zealand food producers have proven, almost without exception, to have high regard for good agricultural practice and are taking care to meet all regulatory requirements.”

Sixty-three foods available nationally were tested in the second quarter and these results will be available shortly. Test results will be released regularly throughout the analysis period with a final report expected in late 2010.

For the 2009 Total Diet Study first quarter results see http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/science/research-projects/total-diet-survey.

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