Preservatives in food report

Monday, 19 December, 2005

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has released the results of its 21st Australian Total Diet Survey (ATDS) of preservatives in food.

This annually monitors Australia's food supply for pesticide residues, contaminants, nutrients, additives and other substances. It has regularly given the Australian food supply a clean bill of health.

For the 21st ATDS, FSANZ focused on three classes of preservatives in food - sulfites, benzoates and sorbates.

Preservatives control the growth of yeast, bacteria and mould in food and provide important benefits to consumers, including the wider availability of safe foods with increased shelf lives.

The study confirmed that most Australians have a dietary intake of sulfites, benzoates and sorbates that is well below the internationally accepted reference health standard for these preservatives, and they present no public health and safety risk.

The relevant health standard is the Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI. The ADI represents the amount of substance that can be consumed daily over an entire lifetime without any health effects. However, the results showed that a small number of Australians, including children, may exceed the ADI. Specifically, this is limited to those who consume, daily, large amounts of foods containing sulfites and benzoates, such as cordials, sausages and dried fruit.

FSANZ chief scientist, Dr Marion Healy said that FSANZ is always concerned when an ADI is exceeded, even though the ADI levels have high margins of safety factored into them.

"However, we do not believe that a high dietary intake of sulfites and benzoates will adversely affect people," Dr Healy said.

"We are very much aware that sulfites are already a worry to some people - mainly those who may suffer from asthma. This is currently addressed by the labelling of foods containing sulfites."

Dr Healy said that FSANZ has decided to conduct a review of the use of sulfites and benzoates in the food supply.

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