The group of scientific experts representing various EU member states backed a move by the European Commission to establish a maximum level for ochratoxin A found these foodstuffs following rising concerns that EU consumers are increasingly exposed to the mycotoxin, shown to have carcinogenic and other toxic properties.
David Byrne, EU commissioner for health and consumer protection said setting maximum levels for Ochratoxin A, means that consumers "can enjoy coffee and wine without worrying about possible contamination. The proposal also introduces maximum levels for grape juice, a drink frequently consumed by children."
Rules are already in place for upper levels of Ochratoxin in cereals and dried vine fruit, the main source of exposure for consumers. Mycotoxins, produced by moulds that have contaminated and grown on foods, cause sickness, and in extreme cases death, in people and farm animals. But they rest a modern day problem that the food industry must tackle on a daily basis.
Low levels of ochratoxin A in foods are not considered to pose a risk to health at all, however, at high levels it is considered to be a potential carcinogen. Animal studies have shown that a type of ochratoxin A can cause tumours in the kidney and other organs. In humans, exposure to high levels of ochratoxin A has been linked with chronic renal disease and an increased incidence of urinary tract tumours.
It has been estimated that 25 per cent of all agricultural crops worldwide are contaminated by moulds that produce mycotoxins. The toxins are mostly found in cereals, nuts, cocoa and coffee beans, but also in other foods, like wine, dried fruits and meat, particularly when the water content/activity and the temperature are poorly controlled.
"Human exposure is inevitable, and ochratoxin A has been detected in human blood samples, but generally at low levels in healthy people," say the Commission, that is expected to extend the rules even further to new foodstuffs.
Brussels agreed on the following limits this week for coffee, wine and grape juice: roasted coffee beans and ground roasted coffee 5.0 µg/kg; soluble coffee 10.0 µg/kg; wine and other wine and/or grape must based drinks 2.0 µg/kg; grape juice and grape juice ingredients in other drinks 2.0 µg/kg.