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Cadmium in chocolate: New EU regulation enter into force 1 January 2019


Cadmium (Cd) is a toxic heavy metal found as an environmental contaminant as a result of both natural occurrence (from weathered rock) as well as human activities (mining, smelting, waste combustion, use of phosphate fertilizers). Cadmium is primarily toxic to the kidney and can cause renal failure. Cadmium can also cause bone demineralisation. Cadmium is classified as a human carcinogen (Group 1) on the basis of occupational studies. Newer data on human exposure to cadmium have indicated an increased risk of cancer such as in the lung, endometrium, bladder, and breast. Foodstuffs are the main source of cadmium exposure for the non-smoking general population. The mean dietary exposure for adults across Europe is close to or slightly exceeding the tolerable weekly intake, calling for stricter regulation reducing the exposure. Being present as a contaminant in soil, cadmium is reaching the crops being harvested from the contaminated soil. As a result, the food types that contribute most to the dietary cadmium exposure are cereals and cereal products, vegetables, nuts and pulses, starchy roots or potatoes, and meat and meat products from animals fed contaminated crops.

Cadmium in chocolate:
Cadmium in chocolate is the result of cadmium uptake from contaminated soil by the cocoa plant. Unfortunately, up to now, the cadmium cannot be extracted from the cocoa bean by an industrial process. Due to geochemical properties, cocoa from Latin America is more contaminated with cadmium than cocoa from West Africa.

Photo: The darker the chocolate, the higher the tolerated cadmium level

European Regulation:
In view of a possible reduction of dietary exposure to cadmium, existing maximum levels have recently been reviewed and additional maximum levels have been established for food commodities of concern for which no maximum levels existed yet. These new maximum levels aim especially at an increased protection of infants and young children and concern chocolate and several categories of infant formula.

For chocolate, three maximum levels have been established depending on the content of the chocolate varieties. The strictest maximum levels apply to the chocolate varieties mostly eaten by children. The darker the chocolate, the higher the maximum levels are. A fourth maximum level is set for cocoa powder destined for direct consumption. The maximum tolerated levels are as follows:
  • milk chocolate with <30 % total cocoa solids: 0.10 mg/kg
  • chocolate with < 50 % total cocoa solids: 0.30 mg/kg
  • chocolate with >= 50% total dry cocoa solids: 0.80 mg/kg
  • cocoa powder sold to the final consumer : 0.60 mg/kg
These maximum levels will enter into force on 1 January 2019.

Related information

Related studies (newest first)

G.M. Thyssen, C. Keil, M. Wolff, M. Sperling, D. Kadow, H. Haase, U. Karst, Bioimaging of the elemental distribution in cocoa beans by means of LA-ICP-TQMS, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 33/2 (2018) 187-194. DOI: 10.1039/c7ja00354d

Gianluigi Maria Lo Dico, Fabio Galvano, Giacomo Dugo, Carlo D'Ascenzi, Andrea Macaluso, Antonio Vella, Giuseppe Giangrosso, Gaetano Cammilleri, Vincenzo Ferrantelli, Toxic metal levels in cocoa powder and chocolate by ICP-MS method after microwave-assisted digestion, Food Chem., 245 (2018) 1163-1168. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.11.052

Eileen Abt, Jennifer Fong Sam, Patrick Gray, Lauren Posnick Robin,  Cadmium and lead in cocoa powder and chocolate products in the US Market, Food Addit Contam Part B, 11/2 (2018) 92-102. DOI: 10.1080/19393210.2017.1420700

A. Gramlich, S. Tandy, C. Gauggel, M. López, D. Perla, V. Gonzalez, R. Schulin, Soil cadmium uptake by cocoa in Honduras, Sci. Total Environ., 612 (2018) 370-378. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.08.145

F. Barraza, E. Schreck, T. Léveque, G. Uzu, F. López, J. Ruales, J. Prunier, A. Marquet, L. Maurice, Cadmium bioaccumulation and gastric bioaccessibility in cacao: A field study in areas impacted by oil activities in Ecuador, Environ. Pollut., 229 (2017) 950-963. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.07.080

Enrique Arevalo-Gardini, Cesar O. Arevalo-Hernandez, Virupax C. Baligar, Zhenli L. He, Heavy metal accumulation in leaves and beans of cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) in major cacao growing regions in Peru, Sci. Tot. Environ., 605-606 (2017) 792-800. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.06.122

Zukl Arham, La Ode Asmin, Rosmini, Muhammad Nurdin, Heavy Metal Content of Cocoa Plantation Soil in East Koloka, Indonesia, Orient. J. Chem., 33/3 (2017) 1164-1170. DOI: 10.13005/ojc/330314

Gideon Ramtahal, Ivan Chang Yen, Isaac Bekele, Frances Bekele, Lawrence Wilson, Kamaldeo Maharaj, Lisa Harrynanan, Relationship between Cadmium in Tissues of Cocoa Trees and Soils in Plantations of Trinidad and Tobago, Food Nutr. Sci., 7/1 (2016) 37-43. DOI: 14.4236/fns.2016.71005

A. Echeverry, H. Reyes, Determination of the concentration of cadmium in a Colombian chocolate with 65% of cocoa, and foreign chocolates with different cocoa percentages. Entre Ciencia e Ingenieria, 10/19 (2016)  22-32. available from: http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php?script=sci_abstract&pid=S1909-836720160001000040

E. Chavez, Z.L. He, P.J. Stoffella, R.S. Mylavarapu, Y.C. Li, V.C. Baligar, Chemical speciation of cadmium: An approach to evaluate plant-available cadmium in Ecuadorian soils under cacao production, Chemosphere, 150 (2016) 57-62. DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.02.013

E. Chavez, Z.L. He, P.J. Stoffella, R.S. Mylavarapu, Y.C. Li, B. Moyano, V.C. Baligar, Concentration of cadmium in cacao beans and its relationship with soil cadmium in southern Ecuador, Sci. Total Environ., 533 (2015) 205–214. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.106

G. Ramtahal, I. Chang Yen, I. Bekele, F. Bekele, L. Wilson, K. Maharaj, B. Sukha, Implications of distribution of cadmium between the nibs and testae of cocoa beans on its marketability and food safety assessment, Qual. Assur. Saf. Crops Foods, 7/5 (2015) 731-736. DOI: 10.3920/QAS2013.0388

Sandra Mounicou, J. Szpunar, D. Andrey, C. Blake, R. Lobinski, Concentrations and bioavailability of cadmium and lead in cocoa powder and related products, Food Addit. Contam., 20/4 (2003) 343-352. DOI: 10.1080/0265203031000077888

Related EVISA Resources

EVISA Link Database: Toxicity of cadmium
EVISA Link Database: Environmental cadmium pollution


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