On February 15, 2018, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) published a Q&A document on perchlorate in foodstuffs, along with a communication calling for a reduction of perchlorate levels in the food chain in Europe. Perchlorate is suspected of impairing brain development in fetuses and children through its interference with iodine uptake and thyroid hormone production (FPF reported).

The BfR referred to a toxicological assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Using the inhibition of iodine uptake in healthy adults as a basis, EFSA established a tolerable daily intake (TDI) for perchlorate at 0.0003 mg/kg of body weight (FPF reported). A recent dietary exposure assessment carried out by EFSA found that the recommended TDI value is often exceeded (FPF reported).

The BfR agrees with EFSA’s assessment. However, because the current analytical limit for the detection of perchlorate in foodstuffs is 0.01 mg/kg, the BfR could not issue a specific recommendation for maximum contents in food. Instead, the BfR recommends that perchlorate in foodstuffs should conform to the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable).

The BfR emphasizes that in the EU perchlorate has never been authorized as a pesticide or biocide. Perchlorate naturally contained in some fertilizers may be taken up by plants. Rocket fuel and some industrial chemicals constitute other sources of perchlorate exposure in the environment. The most significant source of perchlorate content in food, according to both the BfR and EFSA, is the contact of foodstuffs with perchlorate-containing disinfection water, since perchlorate can be formed as a disinfection by-product following treatment with chlorine-containing biocides.

Neither the BfR’s nor EFSA’s assessments mention that food contact materials (FCMs) could constitute another significant source of perchlorate in foods, despite the ongoing debate (FPF reported) and evidence from monitoring studies carried out in the U.S. (FPF reported).  In Europe, sodium perchlorate is authorized as an additive in plastic FCMs (Regulation (EU) 10/2011), with a specific migration limit (SML) of 0.05 mg/kg food. Assuming a daily intake of one kg of food per person of 60 kg weight, exposure from FCMs complying with this SML could lead to 0.0008 mg/kg body weight daily intake. Notably, this is above the TDI of 0.0003 mg/kg body weight/day recommended by EFSA. Importantly, the SML does not take other exposure sources into account.

Read more

BfR (February 15, 2018). “Der Eintrag von Perchlorat in die Nahrungskette sollte reduziert werden.(pdf)

BfR (February 15, 2018). “Fragen und Antworten zu Perchlorat in Lebensmitteln.