Cadmium and lead in food. Changes in guidelines for the maximum concentration levels

Changes in the maximum levels of cadmium and lead in food were dictated by research results indicating their harmfulness, increased human exposure to their penetration into the body and the availability of methods for their reduction in food.

Lowering the maximum levels for cadmium and lead in food


At the beginning of August, changes in the guidelines for the maximum concentration levels for cadmium and lead in food were published. At the end of August, the regulations containing these guidelines took legal effect. Due to the toxicity of these elements, as well as the presence and widespread use of methods to limit their presence in many food products, it was decided to lower the maximum levels of their concentration in some food products.


Lead is a soft metal obtained from lead ore, the so-called galena. It has been used by people since antiquity in construction, cosmetics and even medicine. Its properties have aroused great interest from the very beginning. This led to an industrial use of lead, making it indispensable in the production of water supply, weapons, building components, jewelry and even toys. It was used in every area of life.

Currently, it is used in the production of structural elements, batteries and accumulators, and its compounds are used in the production of paints, pigments and mortars.

The main sources of contact with this element are provided by industry, landfills, atmospheric pollution, and thus also food from contaminated soil.

The influence of lead on the human body

Both lead and its compounds are toxic to the human body. Its widespread use has made it virtually impossible to avoid contact with it. It enters the body through the digestive and respiratory systems. After penetrating the human body, it is partially excreted and partially accumulates in soft tissues, blood and bones. Its excess leads to saturnism, disrupting the body's metabolic changes and causing a number of undesirable symptoms. Lead can cause developmental neurotoxicity in young children and cardiovascular problems and nephrotoxicity in adults. The European Food Safety Authority has expressed concern that current dietary exposure levels to lead may affect the development of the nervous system of fetuses, infants and children.


Cadmium, as well as lead, is a soft metal. There is a relatively small amount of it in its natural state, and its production is sometimes a side process of zinc ore extraction. The extraction process contaminates the soil and water used to grow fruit and vegetables. The reason for its penetration into the environment is also the irresponsible management of waste waters and the use of fertilizers contaminated with cadmium in agriculture.

People, ignorant of the toxic properties of cadmium, widened its use in industry, even using it as an additive to drugs. The same as lead, it is used in the production of accumulators, batteries, paints and dyes. It is also used in agriculture as a fertilizer component.

The influence of lead on the human body

Cadmium can enter the body through the respiratory and digestive systems. Increasing environmental pollution and smog, which is an inherent element of large urban agglomerations, are the source of human contact with this toxic element and its accumulation in the body. The European Food Safety Authority concluded that the average adult exposure is close to, or even above, the tolerable weekly intake of cadmium and for vegetarians, children, smokers and people living in highly polluted areas the tolerable weekly intake may be exceeded twice.

Cadmium is toxic mainly to the kidneys, in particular to proximal tubular cells, where it accumulates over time and can disrupt their function.

New maximum concentration levels for cadmium and lead

Up-to-date information on the maximum concentration levels for lead and cadmium can be found in the following regulations, which amend Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006, which sets limits for certain contaminants in foodstuffs:

  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2021/1317 of 9 August 2021 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels of lead in certain foodstuffs

Occupational exposure limits have been lowered or established, among others, for infant formulas and follow-ons, processed cereal products and food for infants and young children, food for special medical purposes intended for infants and young children, drinks for infants and young children and offal, root vegetables, tubers, bulbs, brassica inflorescences and headed, kohlrabi, legumes and stem vegetables, wild mushrooms, turmeric and ginger, for wine, dried spices and salt.

  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2021/1323 of 10 August 2021 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels of cadmium in certain foodstuffs

The maximum permissible cadmium concentrations have been changed, among others, for various types of fruit and nuts of tree nuts, root vegetables, tubers, bulbs, fruit, brassica, legumes and leafy vegetables and for herbs, shoots, fungi, pulses and protein from pulses, oilseeds, cereals, special foods medical purposes intended for infants and young children, infant formulas and food for infants and young children, including fruit juices and salt.

Detailed guidance is provided in the regulations mentioned above.

By when should you comply with the revised guidelines?

Foodstuffs referred to in the new regulations, which were legally placed on the market before their entry into force, may remain on the market until February 28, 2022. After that date, maximum limits for cadmium and lead will have to comply with the requirements of the above regulations.

Determination of the content of elements in food

In the laboratory of WESSLING Polska we analyze the content of individual elements in food - cadmium and lead, as well as many others - helping to maintain the safety and high quality of food products. Our offer also includes a wide range of tests to detect water and soil contamination, including the presence of heavy metals. This allows you to assess at the very beginning whether the planned crops are at risk of penetration and accumulation of pollutants. In order to find out more about our offer, please contact us.

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