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Testing >> Contaminants >> Toxic Metals

Toxic Metals

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Iron, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum and zinc are required by humans, however xcessive levels can be detrimental. Other elements such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead are toxic metals that have no known vital or beneficial effect on organisms and their accumulation over time in the bodies of animals and humans can cause serious illness. From the regulatory point of view four elements are of special importance with regard to the determination of contaminants in food and feeding stuff: arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.


Cadmium is usually present at low levels in a wide range of food with food products accounting for more than 90 % of human exposure to cadmium. The main sources are  animal kidneys, rice, soy beans and seafood due to contamination by local industrial and mining operations. The packaging materials for pre-prepared and fresh food products may contain considerable levels of cadmium that may migrate into food.


Lead is widely used in the production of batteries, metal products (solder and pipes), ammunition and devices to shield X-rays leading to its exposure to the people working in these industries. Ingestion of contaminated food and drinking water is the most common source of lead exposure in human. Exposure to lead can also take place by the use of lead-glazed ceramics in cooking and ingestion of paint chips.


Mercury is an environmental contaminant that is present in fish and seafood products largely as methyl mercury. Other food sources than fish and seafood products may contain mercury mostly in the form of inorganic mercury, which is considerably less toxic than organic mercury. The estimated intakes of mercury in Europe vary by country, mainly depending on the amount and the type of fish consumed.


Fish and other seafood is the main source of arsenic in the diet of humans contributing more than 50 % to the mean intake. Marine species of fish may have arsenic levels significantly higher than levels in fish from brackish water. Most of the arsenic in marine food is in organic which is stated to be less toxic than inorganic arsenic species. Rice and rice products are another source for arsenic exposure through the diet because of the tendency of this food grain to accumulate arsenic from contaminated soils.

EU Regulation

Commission Regulation (EC) No 466/2001 established maximum levels of cadmium and lead in certain foodstuffs and mercury in fish products for the first time. This regulation is now replaced by Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 of 19 December 2006. These maximum values refer to the total amount of the respective elements. For arsenic no maximum level in food products is yet established. Additional EU legislation covers also additives, flavouring and food contact materials.

EU Directive 2002/32/EC of 7 May 2002 on undesirable substances in animal feed established maximum levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in certain feeding stuffs covering feed materials of vegetable, animal and mineral origin, additives, pre-mixtures, complete and complementary feeding stuffs.

Criteria for sampling, sample treatment and methods of analysis are laid down by Commission Regulation (EC) No 333/2007 of 28 March 2007 (food) and international standard methods.

Eurofins Analytical Offer

Eurofins laboratories offer specific solutions for the quality control of food and feeding stuff, for example the analysis of cadmium, lead, mercury, arsenic in food and feeding stuff according to EU requirements as well as accepted international standard methods. In addition to these more toxic metals a variety of other elements can be determined for different purposes, e.g.:

  • Tin in canned food (migration)
  • Elements in nutritional supplements
  • Aluminium in acid food (apple juice)
  • Iron and copper in wine (fining agents)
  • Trace elements with nutritional value
  • Impurities of food additives

Our laboratories constantly invest in R&D to develop and validate new analytical methods. We also keep a close eye, on a daily basis, on scientific developments and changes to national and international legislation.