Last updated on 2 October 2006
Metals in weaning foods and formulae for infants
Food Survey Information Sheet 17/06
The Food Standards Agency has conducted a survey to establish the concentrations of 15 metals and other elements in a wide range of commercial weaning foods and formulae.
The aim of this survey was to provide an indication of the concentrations of metals and other elements in weaning foods and formulae for infants on sale in the UK and to allow an assessment of infants' exposures from these elements in these foods.
Aluminium, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin and zinc were measured in 201 samples of commercial weaning foods and formulae for infants.
Levels of these elements in weaning foods and formulae were generally similar to those measured in a previous FSA survey. One sample of formula for infants had levels of iron slightly above the permitted limits.
Estimated exposures to these elements have been compared with safety guidelines, where available. Overall, the results of the survey are consistent with those of the 2003 survey, which the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) concluded did not give concern for the health of infants.
Metals and other elements can be present in foods naturally, as a result of human activities (such as farming practices and industrial emissions), from storage or processing of foods (such as tin dissolution from cans into canned food), or added intentionally (such as iron). The main route of intake for most of these elements is from our diet. Some of these elements are essential nutrients, which we need to get from food for healthy functioning. Others have no known beneficial health effects, but all may be harmful if eaten in excessive amounts.
The FSA regularly monitors the concentrations of metals and other elements in food. Previous multi-element analysis of the Total Diet Study (which is representative of the average UK diet) have shown that concentrations of metals and other elements in food do not present significant risks to the general UK population.
However, estimates of dietary intakes for the general population cannot be easily or accurately extended to infants, as infants have a diet that is different in many ways from that of adults and of children old enough to eat conventional adult foods. As infants grow and develop very rapidly in their first year of life, their energy requirements and food consumption are on average higher relative to their body weight than that of adults and older children. This means that infants can have relatively higher dietary exposures to chemicals present in food than other age groups, when expressed on a body weight basis.
In addition, infants' diets are made up of a more restricted range of foods, particularly before and in the early stages of weaning when the diet is made up entirely or largely of breast milk and/or commercial formulae. On weaning, when solids are given, a large proportion may be commercially available weaning foods.
The composition of commercial formulae for infants and weaning foods can be very different from the foods that make up the diet of the general population and therefore information is needed on the levels of metals and other elements in these food groups. The range of weaning foods is constantly growing and changing, so it is important that the Agency updates its information on such foods regularly.