Perchlorate can be found in many foods and is harmful to health. Here you can read how far the research is and what you can do now to avoid perchlorate.
Perchlorate in food, mostly caused by humans
Perchlorates are a group of compounds that, from a chemical point of view, belong to the salts. The common characteristic of the group is a structure made up of chlorine and oxygen.
For the first time in 2013, the Federal Office for Risk Assessment (BfR) issued a opinion indicate the harmful effects of these compounds on health. The impetus was conspicuously increased levels of perchlorate in food samples. In its updated version from 2018, the BfR appeals again to reduce the level of perchlorate in food. The experts are concerned about how widespread perchlorate contamination is in food.
According to the BfR, the causes for the questionable values are to be found in the processing and packaging processes in the food industry. Disinfectants can leave residues of perchlorates.
Perchlorate occurs naturally in the environment, but many of these compounds have their origin in the chemical industry. The medicine portal DocCheck explains that perchlorates are formed by chemical processes in the atmosphere. From there they sink to the surface of the earth. In Central Europe, sufficient rainfall and soil microbes ensure that perchlorates do not stay in the soil for long. Perchlorate can only build up in the soil in areas where rain rarely falls.
How the perchlorate can get into the food
Perchlorates can remain if disinfectants containing chlorine are used. The investigations of the BfR point in this direction. They report that the food industry uses such agents or chlorinated water, among other things, to clean germs from food.
However, the BfR does not rule out other possibilities either. These are, for example, fertilizers or industrial chemicals. Fireworks or rocket propellants also contain perchlorate. It is conceivable that perchlorate residues can get into the soil and groundwater.
The BfR expressly points out that perchlorate is not permitted as a plant protection product in the European Union. Therefore, this way of contamination with perchlorate can be excluded – with food from European countries of origin.
Many different foods can be affected, including fruits, vegetables, milk or cheese and drinking water.
The agriculture portal Proplanta gives examples: Samples of strawberries, cherries, salads, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes and herbs such as basil contained traces of the chemical. According to Proplanta, the concentration in most cases was below the limit values specified by the BfR. Only two samples from heads of lettuce showed alarming values.
This is how perchlorate works in the body
Perchlorate can inhibit iodine absorption in the body. If you ingest the substance with food over a long period of time, it can impair the function of the thyroid gland.
The pharmacy magazine explains that the body needs to get iodine through food. She uses the iodine to make hormones from it. These are involved in such important functions as metabolism or growth. The hormones also control mental well-being. If he lacks iodine, the thyroid gland is underactive.
People with thyroid disease are particularly at risk from perchlorate. Further risk groups are children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
The BfR explains that thyroid disorders normalize again when there are no more contaminated foods involved. According to their findings, the perchlorates do not cause permanent damage to the thyroid gland.
Perchlorate cannot be recognized by the consumer
For you as a consumer, it is currently not possible to determine whether your food purchases have come into contact with perchlorate. Somewhere along the supply chain between the farm and the supermarket, for example, perchlorates may have formed from fertilizers or disinfectants. These then attach to the food.
Organic foods are also not free from perchlorate. This is what the Association of Organic Food Manufacturers (AÖL) points out in one Information letter from 2019: According to the letter, trial tests in various organic products were able to detect perchlorates.
The European Commission sees states and food companies as having an obligation. In a opinion from June 2015 it specifies measures to reduce perchlorates in food. The opinion is based on a corresponding one recommendation to the Commission.
Laboratory tests are designed to monitor the contamination of food by perchlorates. The samples must not exceed the specified limit values. The Commission highlights a few foods that should be monitored particularly critically:
- Fruit and vegetables as well as products made from them, for example fruit juice
- Food intended for children and infants
- Dried spices, herbs and tea blends
- Drinking water
The Federal Environment Agency started a project in 2016 to get to the bottom of the perchlorates. The aim is to understand where and how foods typically come into contact with perchlorate. The results should be available by the end of 2020.
Perchlorate – what you can do
The best way to avoid perchlorates in the long term is to eat as diverse a diet as possible. The BfR advises one balanced diet.
- Buy fruits and vegetables seasonal from local cultivation. At the weekly market or in the farm shop, you can get the food fresh and without long transport routes. This reduces the risk of the goods coming into contact with disinfectant. The less the food has been stored or transported, the better.
- In the garden you can Herbs or Grow your own fruit and vegetables. Also on the balcony usually has a small garden space.
Read more on Techzle.com:
- Growing vegetables: these 4 foods grow back (with video)
- Diversity garden: protecting old varieties, insects and birds
- Nitrate in water and food: you need to know that