Aluminium is the most abundant metallic element found in the Earth’s crust and occurs naturally in the environment as silicates, oxides and hydroxides, and as complexes with organic matter.
It is released into the environment mainly by natural processes and is found in the air as particulates, dissolved in water, and in foods. Occurrence in foods can occur naturally, for example, through uptake from soils or water, or from aluminium-containing food additives.
Food additives containing aluminium are commonly used in baked products as leavening agents and also as emulsifiers and anti-caking agents. Standard 1.3.1
of the Food Standards Code
lists the additives and levels permitted for use in Australia and New Zealand.
The Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Joint Evaluation Committee for Food Additives (JECFA) established a health based guidance value (HBGV) for aluminium on the basis of adverse effects on reproduction and development in laboratory animals.
The HBGV is a numerical value that reflects the level of a chemical that can be ingested safely over a defined time period (eg lifetime).
There have been questions about the possible role of aluminium in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, however conclusive evidence to support this association has not been demonstrated.
Exposure of Australian consumers to aluminium in foods and beverages
Concentrations of aluminium in foods and beverages in Australia were investigated as a part of the first phase of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study
(ATDS). Most foods contained detectable levels of aluminium, with the highest concentrations generally found in cakes, pikelets and pancakes.
Estimated dietary exposures of Australian consumers to aluminium were within internationally recognised safe levels for most of the population. There was a slight exceedance of the HBGV for aluminium for 2–5 year old high consumers, but this is not considered to be a major public health and safety issue.
What is being done to reduce aluminium levels in food?
As a long term exceedance of the HBGV is undesirable, FSANZ is speaking with industry representatives to determine whether current permissions for aluminium-containing food additives in the Code are still appropriate for the established technological need; or if they could be decreased to lower dietary exposures, particularly for young children.