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Australian preservative intake at acceptable levels: study

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FOOD Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has released the results of the 21st Australian Total Diet Survey (ATDS) of preservatives in food.

The ATDS annually monitors Australia’s food supply for pesticide residues, contaminants, nutrients, additives and other substances.

It has regularly given the Australian food supply a clean bill of health.

The 21st ATDS focused on three classes of preservatives in food – sulphites, benzoates and sorbates.

Preservatives control the growth of yeast, bacteria and mould in food and provide important benefits to consumers, including the wider availability of safe foods with increased shelf lives.

The study confirmed most Australians have a dietary intake of sulphites, benzoates and sorbates well below the internationally accepted reference health standard for these preservatives, and they present no public health and safety risk.

The relevant health standard is the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). The ADI represents the amount of the substance that can be consumed daily over an entire lifetime without any health effects.

Results showed that a small number of Australians, including children, may exceed the ADI.

This is limited to those who consume on a daily basis large amounts of foods containing sulphites and benzoates - such as cordials, sausages and dried fruit.

FSANZ chief scientist Dr Marion Healy said FSANZ is always concerned when an ADI is exceeded, even though ADI levels have high margins of safety factored into them.

“However, we do not believe that a high dietary intake of sulphites and benzoates will adversely affect people,” she said.

“We are very much aware that sulphites are already a worry to some people – mainly those who may suffer from asthma. This is currently addressed by the labelling of foods containing sulphites”.

Dr Healy said FSANZ has decided to conduct a review of the use of sulphites and benzoates in the food supply.

FSANZ will be working with food manufacturers to refine data and, if necessary, establish the best way to reduce the consumption of these preservatives among those exceeding the ADI.

Input to the review will be sought from concerned individuals, consumer groups, public health professionals and industry.

FSANZ has prepared a fact sheet to explain which foods were included in the 21st ATDS, how the dietary exposures to sulphites and benzoates were estimated, the age groups sampled, and a summary of the study findings.

The full report of the 21st Australian Total Diet Study is available on the FSANZ website.

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