May 04

Food safety: how much arsenic is in my rice?

Ensuring the safety of the food we eat is of paramount importance. Scientists at LGC are addressing a number of measurement challenges to support regulation in the food industry and protect human health which we shall highlight over the coming weeks prior to the Government Chemist Conference, Science supporting trust in food, on 21-22 June 2016.

Portrait of Baby Being FedRice is the most important crop worldwide as it is the staple food for more than 50 % of the world’s population and is also a popular first food for babies. Arsenic, a toxic element found naturally in the environment, is found in a number of inorganic and organic forms but the inorganic arsenic forms (species), As(III) and As(V), are harmful to human health and known to be carcinogenic. Arsenic typically enters the food chain through groundwater and there is an inherent small accumulation in animals and plants. Pollution has caused increased levels of inorganic arsenic to collect in groundwater and consequently rice, grown in flooded fields and requiring high levels of irrigation, contains particularly high levels of these toxic forms of arsenic.

EU legislation (Commission Regulation (EC) No 2015/1006) was introduced in June 2015 that sets defined limits for the levels of inorganic arsenic (sum of As(III) and As(V))  in specific rice and rice products and legalised in January 2016. To ensure the continued safety of rice-based products, here in the UK the Food Standards Agency is also working to determine whether further risk management is required for infant rice-based foods to supplement EU legislation.

In support of this recent legislation, scientists at LGC have been working to develop accurate and traceable methods to quantify total levels of inorganic arsenic (as a sum of both species) present in brown rice. It is the specific form that determines the degree of toxicity, with As(III) and As(V) being more toxic than organo-arsenics. This analysis presents a significant measurement challenge as the different forms of arsenic can inter-convert during sample preparation if not handled appropriately.

The methods developed at LGC have been used to value-assign a new Proficiency Testing (PT) scheme Trial Sample: metals in brown rice. The inclusion of such a material has been specifically requested by food testing labs to help them demonstrate their competence in measuring these chemical contaminants.

This demonstrates the impact LGC in its role as the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement can have on ensuring the safety of our food, supporting regulation and protecting human health.


For further details of the brown rice trial material PT please contact the Chemistry Technical team.

For other PT schemes run by LGC please contact our sales team.

The topic of food safety and security will be discussed at the Government Chemist Conference, Science supporting trust in food on 21-22 June 2016. #trustinfoodGC16

LGC, the UK’s Designated Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement

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