Lead, cadmium and chromium are well-known toxic heavy metals which are ubiquitous in our daily life.

Untreated industrial sewage with high concentrations of heavy metals causes air and water pollution when discharged into the environment and potentially causes harm to humans who are exposed to these toxic elements. While people might be aware of the risks to the environment, they may never have considered that food which comes into contact with material containing heavy metals could become contaminated during the cooking process. In the end, the amount of toxins ingested through food consumption is a matter of concern and damaging to human health.


Lead is one of the most critical toxic elements in the world. Lead solder (40% lead in composition) is sometimes used in food contact material, e.g. joints in kettles and beverage machines and may be found as an impurity in metalware and can leach into food.
Cadmium is another hot topic in contamination, because it can be applied to cadmium plating in metalware. Under (EC) No 1907/20061, cadmium-plated articles are prohibited on the market, but despite the EU restriction, cadmium can be present in metal alloys as an impurity.  Chromium is also widely used in food contact materials. It is one of the important elements in steel, stainless steel and chromium-plated metal. These materials are commonly used in metal cans and kitchenware. Chromium may make up as much as 10.5% of stainless steel. It can migrate into food in significant quantities if poor quality metalware is used.
Other elements, such as nickel, cobalt, aluminium, manganese, etc. can be released into food from contact materials. There are a number of recall cases related to this heavy metal migration.2 In addition, a recent German study by the German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (BfR) found a high release of lead into coffee beverages from coffee makers.3 So how can we ensure the products we use are free from heavy metal release


At the moment, there are no compulsory requirements limiting heavy metal release from metals and alloys used in food contact material in EU regulations. In the absence of specific requirements at the European level, the Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare of the Council of Europe (EDQM) published a practical guide for manufacturers and regulators on metals and alloys used in food contact materials. Under the Europe Resolution CM/Res(2013)95, the governments of EU member states are advised to adopt legislative and other measures to reduce the health risks arising from metal ion release from metal and alloys of food contact material. The guide lists specific release limits (SRL) (see table 1) indicating the maximum permitted amount of metal ions released into food from metal and alloy articles.  These limits are defined according to the toxicological reference values and information regarding organoleptic deterioration of food due to the release of metal ions. In the guide, analytical methods for release testing outline the measurement of metals ions in simulation after the migration process according to actual consumer use of the article. Thus the guide offers a comprehensive approach to the problem from quantity limits to article compliance.


Although following the guide is not compulsory, it has been observed that market stakeholders widely accept this document as the guidance for verifying the quality of metal and alloy material. According to article 3 (EC) No. 1935/20046, food contact materials or items should not transfer their contents to food in quantities which could endanger human health, bring about an unacceptable change in food composition or lead to deterioration of the organoleptic characteristics. While these general requirements do not have any binding limits at the European level, the guide can help ensure product safety in terms of metal release into food. 
The guide’s testing program can be applied to determine the amount of metal released by the finished article.

More importantly, testing should be carried out at the beginning of the product supply chain, and good manufacturing practices should be constantly observed. 
For further information on SGS, please visit our website.
For further advice, please contact your local sales or representative or the global team at:

Kevin Chiu
Consumer Testing Service
Assistant Technical Development
Manager RSTS
SGS Hong Kong Limited
t: +852 2334 4481


1 Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006
2 Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)
3 German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment – Lead Release in Coffeemakers
4 Metals and Alloys used in food contact materials and articles, a practical guide for manufactures and
regulators, 2013, 1st edition
5 Council of Europe Resolution CM/(2013)9 on metals and alloys used in food contact materials and
6 Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 October 2004


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