Baby food tainted by toxic chemical from jars

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NEW FEARS about the safety of baby food were raised yesterday when Government scientists disclosed that a toxic chemical used to seal the lids of jars of baby food had been found to contaminate the food they contained.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said there was no immediate threat to health but ordered baby food manufacturers to reduce levels of the chemical in the jars. In tests, almost half of 137 samples of glass- bottled baby food contained the chemical, epoxidised soya bean oil (ESBO).

The chemical is used to form an airtight seal between lid and jar to prevent microbial contamination. It also ensures that the rubber rim of the lid is more flexible, so that any tampering is obvious. In large quantities it can be dangerous to babies and adults.

A study by the Joint Food Safety and Standards Group found that 48 per cent of brand-name baby-food samples contained levels of ESBO up to 105mg of the oil per kilogram. The safe limit for consumption of the chemical, as recommended by the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals is 1mg per kilogram of bodyweight per day. The limit indicates the amount that can be eaten every day over a lifetime without any increased risk to health.

For ESBO, the limit for human consumption is one hundred times smaller than the limit observed in animal studies. There have been adverse effects on animals exposed to 1,000mg per kilogram of body weight per day, but no effect at 100mg.

The Committee on Toxicity said efforts to reduce ESBO levels should not be at the expense of anti-tampering packaging, which has reassured mothers about the safety of baby foods.

Dr Nigel Dickie, nutritional consultant to Heinz, the baby-food manufacturer, said the research showed that its food does not contain the chemical, although its jars do.