Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are toxins that are biosynthesised by plants only. They are secondary metabolites typically produced against herbivores. It has been estimated that approximately 6000 plant species may contain PAs, and they are mainly found in Boraginaceae, Asteraceae, Orchidaceae and Fabaceae.
Scientific opinion and risk assessment
Many food products of plant origin –such as cereals and derivatives, herbs and species, tea, herbal tea and honey– may contain significant levels of plant toxins, thus EFSA identified these foods as hazard source.
In 2021, EFSA published a scientific opinion on public health on the risks to public health related to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in food and feed, concluding that these compounds can act as genotoxic carcinogens in humans. In 2016, EFSA carried out and published a study concerning pyrrolizidine alkaloids exposure assessment, showing a higher risk for the younger population and the need to keep studying the potential sources of these compounds especially to protect the most vulnerable categories of consumers.
At European level, Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 regarding the maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs sets the limits of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in some food products.
On 11th December 2020, the European Commission released Regulation (EU) 2020/2040 which amends Reg. (EC) 1881/2006 regarding the maximum levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in certain food products, in particular for herbal infusions and infusions, tea, food supplements and pollen-based supplements, dried herbs and caraway seeds.
How Mérieux NutriSciences can help?
Being the key partner for food industries, Mérieux NutriSciences selectively identifies and quantifies several PAs with LC-MS/MS, according to the molecules and the limits set in Reg. (EC) 1881/2006 as amended.
The method applies to many matrices: cereals and derivatives, honey, infusions, tea, food supplements, herbs and species, complex matrices, including cereal-based infant formula.