Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

Providng access to food law since May 1996

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Last updated: 28 May, 2024

Food Contaminants

Providing access to the EU and UK legislation

On this page:

  • Summary - Brief details of the chronology of developments linked to this topic
  • EU Legislation - Listing of Regulations covering the topic
  • UK Legislation - Listing of Regulations covering the topic
  • News -Links to some of the news items on this site concerning contamination


In 1993, Regulation 315/93 established a procedure for the adoption of controls on contaminants in food. For the purposes of this Regulation, Article 1(1) defines a contaminant as follows:

'Contaminant' means any substance not intentionally added to food which is present in such food as a result of the production (including operations carried out in crop husbandry, animal husbandry and veterinary medicine), manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food, or as a result of environmental contamination . Extraneous matter, such as, for example, insect fragments, animal hair, etc, is not covered by this definition.

However, in Article 1(2) it states:

This Regulation shall not apply to contaminants which are the subject of more specific Community rules.

This therefore excludes such chemicals as pesticide residues, veterinary drugs residues, chemicals migrating from food contact materials (e.g. packaging) and radioactive isotopes from escapes of nuclear material. For these substances, more specific controls apply - for pesticide residues, see Pesticide Residues; for food contact materials, see: Food Contact Materials and Articles (the other topics are not yet covered on this site).

Article 2(1) provides a general rule that food shall not be contaminated to a level which is unsafe. In the legislation this is stated as follows:

Food containing a contaminant in an amount which is unacceptable from the public health viewpoint and in particular at a toxicological level shall not be placed on the market.

However Article 2(3) of the Regulation allows for the adoption of additional specific measures where this is considered necessary. It states:

In order to protect public health and pursuant to paragraph 1, the Commission may where necessary establish the maximum tolerances for specific contaminants. Those measures, designed to amend non-essential elements of this Regulation by supplementing it, shall be adopted in accordance with the regulatory procedure with scrutiny referred to in Article 8(3). On imperative grounds of urgency, the Commission may have recourse to the urgency procedure referred to in Article 8(4). These tolerances shall be adopted in the form of a non-exhaustive Community list and may include:

These additional measures contain most of the technical details of the controls and now cover a wide range of chemical contaminants. All the controlled contaminants are set out in the Annex to a single specific regulation - initially Regulation 194/97, then Regulation 466/2001 and Regulation 1881/2006 but now replaced by Regulation 2023/915. The development of these controls leading, to the current situation (May 2023), is summarised in the following figure:

A larger version of this image is available as a pdf file. See: EU Contaminant Controls

Some additional supporting legal documents have also been adopted relating to the sampling and analysis of certain contaminants. These are listed below.

For the Commission's page on this topic, see: Food Contaminants.

EU Legislation

Framework Regulation:

A consolidated version of the Regulation is available on the Europa website. See Regulation 315/93 - Consolidated Version (7 August 2009).

Specific Regulations:

Former Regulation - now replaced by Regulation 2023/915:

Sampling and Analysis

Additional legislation covering methods of sampling and analysis of some of the controlled contaminants has been adopted as follows:


Lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin, 3-MCPD and benzo(a)pyrene:

For a consolidated text, see: Regulation (EC) No 333/2007 - Consolidated text (December 2019)

Dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non-dioxin-like PCBs:


Plant Toxins in Food :

Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs)

UK Legislation

Brexit: Prior to the IP Completion Day (31 December 2020), the legal requirements given in the EU Regulations listed above still applied to the UK. Since IP Completion Day, the EU Regulations above have been incorporated into UK legislation but with amendments to correct deficiencies. Information on this is given below. For more details of the process of incorporating EU legislation into UK law, see the separate page: UK Food Law: EU Legislation as Amended for the UK. Provisions for the enforcement of the controls (originally the EU Regulations but now as amended) have been provided in the UK Regulations listed below. For Northern Ireland, EU rules still apply.


EU Legislation with links to amended for application in the UK:


Requirements for implementation and enforcement are provided for the four parts of the United Kingdom:

News Items

The Commission has initiated the procedure to replace ('recast') the current Regulation, as amended, with a new version. A publication linked to this is available on this site and shows the likely structure of the Annex to the new Regulation. See: Draft Annex I for recast 1881/2006.

For items of news related to contaminants, see the following [Note: in this context, 'contaminants' is not restricted to those covered by the specific controls listed above] :

This page was first provided on 30 October 2015

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