The term “dioxins” refers to a group of toxic compounds formed as a result of human activity, such as waste incineration, backyard burning and industrial processes involving chlorine. Once produced, they continue to linger in the environment due to their strong chemical structure that is resistant to breakdown. Over time, they make their way into our rivers, lakes and soil, eventually landing up in our food supply. But should you be worried about dioxins in your supply chain?  And if these toxic compounds could be present in your supply chain, what actions should you take? Ask yourself the following three key questions to help manage potential dioxin contamination.

1) Are my products considered high-risk for dioxin contamination?

It is estimated that humans receive over 90% of dioxin exposure from their food supply, with the main source being the consumption of animal products. Many feed ingredients, such as clays and mineral mixes, are mined from sites that may contain dioxins, which then can contaminate animal feed. Dioxins are fat-soluble, which means small amounts accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals over time, leading to contaminant levels that can be cause for concern. In a typical North American diet, most dioxin exposure comes from beef and dairy products, but other animals products, such as poultry, pork, fish, eggs and products derived from these items, can also be at-risk for contamination.

2) If I work with high-risk products, what dioxin contamination mitigation strategies should I have in place?

Intentional, or economically motivated, adulteration has gained traction recently as a  priority topic among food safety communities. However, unintentional or accidental adulteration by toxic compounds, such as dioxins, remains a concern as well. There are guidelines outlined by, not only the Food Safety Modernization Act, but also many of the common food safety standards organizations, such as the Global Food Safety Initiative, the Safe Quality Food Institute and the BRC Global Standards. Most of the guidelines suggest first, identifying risk points through a vulnerability assessment and second, implementing a monitoring program. This typically includes some combination of maintaining appropriate documentation and analytical testing. This combination may need to be heavier on one aspect than the other depending on a number of different factors. For example: What’s your supplier’s track record? How long have you been working with them? Geographically, where are your products sourced? These are just a few of the pertinent questions to ask yourself as you develop your monitoring program.

3) I’ve determined that I need to include analytical testing as part of my program. What should I be looking for when I test?

There are many different testing platforms and methods that can be used for dioxin testing. Hundreds of specific dioxin and related furan and PCB compounds exist, so various methods are designed to capture different categories of the compounds. In addition, different levels of instrument sophistication can be used in order to achieve varying degrees of sensitivity.

Perhaps the most widely-recognized approach for testing food and feed follows EU guidance. Food manufacturers can use EPA 1613B to test for dioxin and furans, and also EPA 1668C to test for dioxin-like, as well as certain non-dioxin-like marker PCBs, in various food and ingredient matrices. Both methods involve operating a tandem High Resolution Gas Chromatography/High Resolution Mass Spectrometry laboratory to achieve low detection levels that meet actions levels set by Commission Regulation (EU) No 277/2012.

Are you prepared to start monitoring your supply chain for dioxins? Mérieux NutriSciences’ Dioxin Center of Excellence laboratory is now open in Crete, IL, allowing us the ability to assist the food industry in ensuring adequate monitoring of dioxins. We offer dioxin, furan and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) analytical testing for ingredient suppliers, manufacturers and retailers to verify the safety of their products. If dioxins are a risk in your supply chain, contact us today!

Meet the Author

Nick Price
Product Manager, Analytical Services, Mérieux NutriSciences

Nick has been with Mérieux NutriSciences for five years and is currently a Product Manager for Analytical Services. He focuses on the development of new testing services, with a primary focus on contaminant chemistry testing including drug residues, pesticides, dioxins and many other categories.

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