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Maximum residue limits: pesticides, heavy metals, antibiotics, etc. : Interpretation and uses

How to avoid these contaminants?

The food that you produce or that you're dealing with may be the source of contaminants.

These contaminants: pesticides , heavy metals , antibiotics, etc. can come from several sources including:

  • The ground

  • Fertilizers

  • Medicines/drugs administered to farm animals

  • Pollution from industrial activities

  • The ingredients/additives you use

One of the good ways to make sure that the food you produce or you're dealing with contain little or no contaminants is to check that your raw materials or products that you import come from reliable sources, official and approved by the regulatory authority.

One of your responsibilities is also to put forward a supplier quality assurance program in order to obtain additional guarantees that these various contaminants are not present in your raw materials or your products or that they respect the permitted limits. .

Such a program is an essential part of the PCPs to be implemented under the CFIA's Safe Food for Canadians Regulations and is called: the Supplier Safety Assurance Program (PASAF)

What are the permitted limits?

Since zero risk does not exist, these contaminants may or could be present in your raw materials or products but at levels below established standards and tolerances.

This means that for the vast majority of these chemical contaminants, there are limits or concentrations that must not be exceeded to ensure that there is no problem from a public health point of view even if these contaminants are present in quantities or concentrations below the prescribed limits.

WHO, through several expert committees and the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS , has established what is called maximum residue limits or MRLs. The term residues here denote any trace of a contaminant or of its by-products or metabolites. These MRLs are therefore the guide values to be observed when assessing the conformity of a raw material or a product with regard to the presence of these contaminants.

WTO member countries subscribe to and respect these limits but some have also established their own MRLs for various reasons including:

  • Substance use more specific to a country or region

  • The nature of soils in certain regions of the world

  • Agricultural practices that vary from country to country

  • Historical cases of incidents or contamination experienced

The limits established by the various countries can be more severe than that of the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS but not less because the member countries of the WTO undertake to respect and keep these standards up to date.

How to use these precious data that are the MRLs?

The first reflex is to check the requirements concerning contaminants and MRLs for your raw materials or your products in particular with the regulatory authority .

In Canada, Health Canada is responsible for keeping Canadian MRLs for pesticides and veterinary drugs up to date and relevant information on this subject. If there is a lack of information in Canadian data, the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS is the ultimate reference .

Be careful and above all, don't panic! These contaminants are not necessarily present in all raw materials or products and that is where you need to exercise your judgment and do not look for contaminants in raw material while it is unlikely.

So how do you limit your searches ?

The important thing is to check all of these sources before going too far.

We are able to assist you with the interpretation and use of Maximum Residue Limits for your raw materials or products .   This will allow you to be reassured about the quality and safety of the latter while allowing you to be up to date and to respect the regulatory and compliance requirements and those of your customers (including those stipulated in the GFSI standards).

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