EFSA ruling highlights high infant exposure to tea and herbal metabolite

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified a potential concern for toddlers and their exposure to tropane alkaloids (TA) that are found in tea and herbal infusions.

The Scientific Panel​ observed that infants, toddlers and other children showed higher acute exposure levels compared to the other age classes.

The highest mean and 95th​ percentile (P95) acute exposure estimations in the young age classes were observed for the sum of TAs atropine and scopolamine and ranged from 1 to 64 nanograms per kilogram per body weight per day (ng/kg/bw/day), minimum lower-bound LB to maximum upper-bound UB assumption.

“Under the UB assumption, the group Acute Reference Dose (ARfD) of 16 nanograms per kilogram per body weight (ng/kg/bw) was exceeded for both TAs at the P95 in infants, toddlers, other children and adolescents,”​ the ruling stated.  

“The sum of atropine and scopolamine was exceeded at the mean level in toddlers and other children, and at the P95 in all age classes.

“Under the LB assumption, the group ARfD was exceeded for atropine at the P95 in toddlers, and for the sum of atropine and scopolamine at the P95 in toddlers and other children.”

What are tropane alkaloids?

TA are metabolites   which   naturally   occur   in   plants   such as mandrake, henbane, deadly nightshade, Jimson weed and Erythroxylaceae (including coca).

The TAs are found in all parts of the plants and are responsible for the toxic effects of some of these plants.

Tropane alkaloids known to cause cardiac disorders, mainly related to heart rate disturbances, and also euphoric states, disorientation and depressive activity toward the central nervous system (CNS).

Risks to public health related to the presence of TA as contaminants in food were assessed in an EFSA scientific opinion​ back in 2013.

This was followed up in 2015, in which the European Commission asked Member States with food industry involvement to the monitor TA presence in food and to provide EFSA with results—published in 2016.

EFSA’s TA update

These latest findings found that overall, among processed foods, the main contributors to the exposure to atropine and scopolamine were, at the LB, tea and herbal infusions for all age classes and at the UB, bread and cereal-based foods.

High occurrence values were found for atropine in ‘Tea and herbs for infusions’ (mean 9.5 micrograms per kilogram (μg/kg)), ‘Cereal bars’ (mean 6.3 μg/kg) and ‘Spices’ (i.e. coriander seed, mean 35.0 μg/kg, fennel seed, mean 7.1 μg/kg);

High occurrence values were also found for scopolamine in ‘Tea for infants and young children’ (mean 8.5 μg/kg) and ‘Spices’ (i.e. coriander seed mean 22.0 μg/kg); and for calystegines in ‘potatoes and potato products’ (mean 106.8 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg)).

The mean acute dietary exposure to the sum of atropine and scopolamine were highest in infants (range from 1 to 15 ng/kg bw per day (minimum LB to maximum UB)), toddlers (range 1–21 ng/kg bw per day (minimum LB to maximum UB)), and other children (range 1–20 ng/kg bw per day (minimum LB to maximum UB)).

The P95 of acute dietary exposure to the sum of atropine and scopolamine were highest in infants (range 1–64 ng/kg bw per day (minimum LB to maximum UB)), toddlers (range 1–59 ng/kg bw per day (minimum LB to maximum UB)) and other children (range 0.0–48 ng/kg bw per day (minimum LB to maximum UB)).

“The dietary exposure of infants could be up to four times (under the UB assumption) the group ARfD and could exceed the group ARfD by approximately 5–25% of consumption days,” ​the ruling concluded.

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