Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Last updated: 27 February, 2018

Food Contaminants in the European Union

(compiled by Dr David Jukes)

On this page: .. Summary .. EU Law .. News


Regulation 315/93 establishes a procedure for the adoption of controls on contaminants in food. for the purposes of this Regulation, Article 1(1) defines a contaminant as follows:

'Contaminant' means any substance not intentionally added to food which is present in such food as a result of the production (including operations carried out in crop husbandry, animal husbandry and veterinary medicine), manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food, or as a result of environmental contamination . Extraneous matter, such as, for example, insect fragments, animal hair, etc, is not covered by this definition.

However in Article 1(2) it states:

This Regulation shall not apply to contaminants which are the subject of more specific Community rules.

This therefore excludes such chemicals as pesticide residues, veterinary drugs residues, chemicals migrating from food contact materials (e.g. packaging) and radioactive isotopes from escapes of nuclear material. For these substannces, more specific controls apply (and are not yet covered on this page).

Article 2(1) provides a general rule that food shall not be contaminated to a level which is unsafe. In the legislation this is stated as follows:

Food containing a contaminant in an amount which is unacceptable from the public health viewpoint and in particular at a toxicological level shall not be placed on the market.

However Article 2(3) of the Regulation allows for the adoption of additional specific measures where this is considered necessary. It states:

In order to protect public health and pursuant to paragraph 1, the Commission may where necessary establish the maximum tolerances for specific contaminants. Those measures, designed to amend non-essential elements of this Regulation by supplementing it, shall be adopted in accordance with the regulatory procedure with scrutiny referred to in Article 8(3). On imperative grounds of urgency, the Commission may have recourse to the urgency procedure referred to in Article 8(4). These tolerances shall be adopted in the form of a non-exhaustive Community list and may include:

These additional measures contain most of the technical details of the controls and now cover a wide range of contaminants. All the controlled contaminants are set out in the Annex to a single specific regulation - initially Regulation 194/97, then Regulation 466/2001 and currently in Regulation 1881/2006 (as amended). The development of these controls leading, to the current situation (February 2018), is summarised in the following figure:

A larger version of this image is available as a jpg file. See: EU Contaminant Controls

Some additional supporting legal documents have also been adopted relating to the sampling and analysis of certain contaminants. These are listed below.

EU Law

Additional information can be found on the European Commission's page relating to Food Contaminants

Framework Regulation:


A consolidated version of the Regulation is available on the Europa website. See Regulation 315/93 - Consolidated Version (contains amendments up until publication date: 7 August 2009).

Specific Regulations:

For quick access - Consolidated version of Regulation 1881/2006 (March 2018)


A consolidated version of the Regulation is available on the Europa website. See Regulation 1881/2006 - Consolidated Version (contains amendments up until publication date: 19 March 2018).

Sampling and Analysis

Additonal legislation covering methods of sampling and analysis of some of the controlled contaminants has been adopted as follows:



For a consolidated text, see: Regulation (EC) No 401/2006 - Consolidated text (July 2014)

Lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin, 3-MCPD and benzo(a)pyrene:


For a consolidated text, see: Regulation (EC) No 333/2007 - Consolidated text (May 2016)

Dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non-dioxin-like PCBs:


Erucic Acid:

News Items:

The Commission has initiated the procedure to replace ('recast') the current Regulation, as amended, with a new version. A publication linked to this is available on this site and shows the likely structure of the Annex to the new Regulation. See: Draft Annex I for recast 1881/2006.

For items of news related to contaminants, see the following [Note: in this context, 'contaminants' is not restricted to those covered by Regulation1881/2006] :

This page was first provided on 30 October 2015

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