EUROPE – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has discovered 10 nitrosamines present in food to be carcinogenic and genotoxic during a risk assessment on the presence of nitrosamines in food.

According to EFSA, the level of consumer exposure to nitrosamines, which are chemicals that can occur in food during preparation and processing, raises a public health issue.

Based on animal studies, EFSA considered the incidence of liver tumors in rodents as the most critical health effect of nitrosamine exposure.

Under the assumption that all nitrosamines identified in food have the same potential to cause cancer in people as the most hazardous nitrosamine (although this scenario is unlikely), EFSA’s risk assessment evaluated the potential harm caused by nitrosamines to humans and animals as well as consumer exposure in the worst-case scenario.

The risk assessment was confined to those 10 carcinogenic N‐nitrosamines (N‐NAs) occurring in food (TCNAs), i.e. N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), N-nitrosomethylethylamine (NMEA), N-nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA), Nitrosodipropylamine (NDPA), N-Nitrosobutylamine (NDBA), N-nitrosomethyl-n-alkylamine (NMA), N-nitrososarcosine (NSAR), N-nitrosomorpholine (NMOR), N-nitrosopiperidine (NPIP) and N-nitrosopyrrolidine (NPYR).

Analytical results on the occurrence of N‐NAs were extracted from the EFSA occurrence database (n = 2,817) and the literature (n = 4,003). Occurrence data were available for five food categories across TCNAs.

TCNAs exposure ranged from 0 to 208.9 ng/kg bw per day across surveys, age groups, and scenarios.

The experts came to the conclusion that the degree of exposure to nitrosamines in food creates a health risk for people of all ages in the EU.

Foods like cured meat products, processed seafood, chocolate, beer, and other alcoholic beverages have been discovered to contain nitrosamines.

Meat and meat products are the main food category causing consumer exposure to nitrosamines. The margin of Exposure (MOEs) ranged from 3,337 to 48 at the P95 exposure excluding some infant surveys with P95 exposure equal to zero.

The EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) concluded that the MOE for TCNAs at the P95 exposure is highly likely (98–100% certain) to be less than 10,000 for all age groups, which raises a health concern.

Other foods, such as processed vegetables, cereals, milk and dairy products, fermented, pickled, and spicy meals, may also contain nitrosamines.

Nonetheless, there are knowledge gaps about the occurrence of nitrosamines in particular food groups.

According to EFSA, eating a diverse range of foods as part of a well-rounded diet may enable consumers to consume fewer nitrosamines.

Last year, EFSA contacted stakeholders in developing its draft scientific opinion on exposure to nitrosamines.

The European Commission will be informed of the opinion, and national authorities will talk about the feasibility of implementing risk management measures.

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