An Australian survey of patulin in apple juice and other apple products has found the concentration in most items was low.

In 2020, ​​​​​several apple juice products were recalled because of high patulin levels. In response, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and other government, state, and territory health authorities ran a survey to determine if the amount of patulin in foods posed a risk to consumers.

Patulin is a natural toxin produced by certain molds, sometimes found in fruits, vegetables, and cereals. The likelihood of contamination in apples is influenced by the condition of the fruit at harvest and handling and storage conditions. There are no maximum limits for patulin in Australia. However, levels should be kept as low as reasonably achievable.

Juice made from fallen fruit is at higher risk of contamination than those made from tree apples. Any patulin already present in apples is not destroyed by pasteurization.

Survey results
Almost 300 products were purchased from all states and territories in 2021 and 2022. Most of the items sampled were apple juices, but solid apple products for infants, apple puree, applesauce, canned apples, and dried apples were also tested. For some types of apple juice, patulin concentrations varied between products and over time. 

A dietary exposure assessment was carried out using concentrations from the survey and the amount of apple juice and products Australians typically consume. Estimated dietary exposure to patulin was determined to be low. 

FSANZ said there were no food safety concerns related to patulin, so there was no need to introduce regulatory measures. 

Of the 299 samples analyzed, 193 contained patulin concentrations above the reporting limit. Levels were higher in apple juice compared with solid apple products. Patulin levels in concentrate varieties were higher than in reconstituted and freshly made juice.

Codex has set a maximum level of 50 micrograms per kilogram for patulin in apple juice, which some national food regulators have adopted. Almost 90 percent of apple juice products had levels below this limit. There was considerable variability and extensive patulin concentrations not from concentrated juices. Detections up to 532 micrograms per kilogram were observed.

FSANZ said due to this variability and range; there was the potential for patulin contamination of apple juice to occur in the future.

The agency recommended industry quality control practices, including good agricultural and manufacturing practices, and continued monitoring and assessment of apple juice products with the potential for higher patulin levels.

FSANZ is also finalizing a survey looking at levels of metal contaminants, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and tin, in apple juice and other apple products. A report is due to be published in early 2024.

New rules for businesses
Australia also recently introduced revised rules for businesses that handle and serve unpackaged, ready-to-eat food (RTE) requiring temperature control. 

Outlets that prepare and serve unpacked, potentially hazardous, and RTE foods, like restaurants, need to have a qualified food safety supervisor; ensure food handlers have sufficient skills and knowledge and have the ability to demonstrate safe food practices.

Businesses that sell RTE food that is unpackaged and not made by them, such as supermarkets, only have to meet the first two requirements.

Childcare centers that provide food, school canteens, supermarkets, greengrocers, delis, coffee vendors serving food, and boarding schools must appoint a food safety supervisor by Dec. 8, 2024. Fundraising events associated with charitable or not-for-profit organizations are exempt from the requirements.

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