Atropine was detected in four of 14 samples of cereal-based foods intended for children, according to a survey last year by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet).

Another tropane alkaloid, scopolamine, was detected in two of the samples. As in 2017, the highest levels were found in processed snacks for babies called “skumpinner” from Slovakia, and one was above the maximum limit of 1 µg/kg at 1.68 µg/kg. The other country positive samples came from was Spain.

Tropane alkaloids are found in large quantities in seeds from the plant order Datura. Crops may be contaminated by these seeds during harvest, and tropane alkaloids may be a problem in cereal- and seed-based foods.

Picture of the domestic market

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are often found in weeds in tropic and sub-tropic regions, and tea from these areas may potentially be contaminated. The EU has not set limit values for pyrrolizidine alkaloids in tea. Honey from bees collecting nectar from PA-producing plants may also contain them.

PA was detected in eight of 10 tea samples with the highest levels found in green tea. The PA’s jacobine and jacobine-NOX were detected at very high levels in one tea sample. In honey, PA was detected in nine of 15 samples but only at low levels.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority sampled relevant foods on the domestic market to get an idea on the levels of tropane alkaloids and PA in foods. Samples were analyzed by the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO).

In 2018, 14 samples were received for analysis of tropane alkaloids. Ten were cereal-based porridge and four were processed cereal-based baby food. Ten teas and 15 honey samples were received for analysis of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids in tea and honey

Black tea had low PA content or was completely free. Three of four green tea samples had medium to high levels, with a total concentration of 55, 90 and 447 µg PA per kilo of tea. All these green tea samples were produced in China. The highest PA content was 447 µg/kg.

Lycopsamine, intermedine N-oxide, jacobine and jacobine N-oxide were the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in tea. Jacobine and/or jacobine N-oxide were detected in six of the 10 samples and at very high concentrations in one test.

Two samples of Norwegian honey contained pyrrolizidine alkaloids at less than 5 µg/kg. Low levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids at less than 3.5 µg/kg were detected in seven honey samples from Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, and Chile.

Senecionine/NOX, seneciphylline/NOX, and jacobine were the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in Norwegian honey. Echimidine, lycopsamine, intermedine, latekirkin, heliotrine and lasiocarpine were detected in imported samples. A sample from India, which is one of the largest honey exporters, did not contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

In 2017, atropine was detected in three of 35 samples of cereal-based foods and foods intended for children. Two of these products came from Sweden and one from Slovakia.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)