Aluminium is the most abundant metallic element found in the Earth's crust and occurs naturally in soil, water and air.
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 Expert Committee on 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.
New Zealand Total Diet Study
Results from the latest New Zealand Total Diet Study found higher than expected levels of aluminium in some baked goods, although the potential health risk to NZ consumers remains low. The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries is working with industry to reduce the level of aluminium in these foods.