Chemical contaminants legislation

Basic principles

The basic principles of EU legislation on contaminants in food are laid down in Council Regulation 315/93/EEC of 8 February 1993 laying down Community procedure for contaminants in food.

  • Food containing contaminants at levels deemed unacceptable from a public health perspective, and in particular at the toxicological level, cannot be placed on the market
  • Contaminant levels must be kept as low as can reasonably be achieved following recommended good working practices
  • Maximum levels must be set for certain contaminants in order to protect public health.

Maximum Level

The maximum limits for certain food contaminants are set out in Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 of 19 December 2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs.

In Belgium, the European Regulation is supplemented by the following legislation:

  • Royal Decree of 14 June 2002 laying down maximum levels of contaminants including heavy metals in food supplements.
  • Royal Decree of 17 September 1968 on salt for human consumption.
  • Royal Decree of 14 January 2002 on the quality of water intended for human consumption which is packaged or which is used in food processing establishments in the manufacture and/or commercial preparation of food products.
  • Royal Decree of 8 February 1999 on natural mineral water and spring water.
  • Royal Decree of 6 June 1997 on the maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs.

Sampling and analysis

Provisions for sampling and analysis for the official control of the maximum levels of contaminants have been laid down as follows:

  • Commission Regulation (EC) 401/2006 of 23 February 2006 laying down the methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of the levels of mycotoxins in foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EC) No 333/2007 of 28 March 2007 laying down the methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of the levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin, 3-MCPD and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/644 of 5 April 2017 laying down methods of sampling and analysis for the control of levels of dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non-dioxin-like PCBs in certain foodstuffs and repealing Regulation (EU) No 589/2014
  • Commission Regulation (EC) 1882/2006 of 19 December 2006 laying down methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of the levels of nitrates in certain foodstuffs
  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/705 of 30 April 2015 laying down methods of sampling and performance criteria for the methods of analysis for the official control of the levels of erucic acid in foodstuffs and repealing Commission Directive 80/891/EE

Guidance documents are available on the European Commission website on contaminants for the implementation of these Regulations.

Action Level

If there is no regulatory maximum level for a given contaminant in a foodstuff, the Agency may intervene if a high level of this contaminant is observed in this foodstuff, resulting in a hazard to public health (cf. Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002).

In this type of situation, the values above which the Agency will intervene are called action levels.

Importation

To avoid any risk to public health, the European Union (EU) has prepared a specific Regulation on imports of foodstuffs (of non-animal origin).

  • Commission Regulation (EC) No 669/2009 of 24 July 2009 implementing Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the increased level of official controls on imports of certain feed and food of non-animal origin and amending Decision 2006/504/EC
  • Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 884/2014 of 13 August 2014 imposing special conditions governing the import of certain feed and food from certain third countries due to contamination risk by aflatoxins and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1152/2009
  • Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/6 of 5 January 2016 imposing special conditions governing the import of feed and food originating in or consigned from Japan following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station and repealing Implementing Regulation (EU) No 322/2014
Last updated: 28/03/2019