Intake estimation of nickel via food for the Belgian population and research on sources of nickel contamination

Federal Public Service of Health, Safety of the Foodchain and Environment

The purpose of the INNIBEL project (March 1, 2017 until February 28, 2019) was to check to what extent food available on the Belgian market gives rise to exposure to nickel through different contamination routes and as such form a potential (chronic and acute) risk for public health. The project was financed by the Federal Public Service of Health, Safety of the Foodchainand Environment and executed by three different Ghent University research groups. Pack4Food was subcontracted for the contact with the packaging industry, as well as with companies who market food contact materials (industrial applications and kitchen utilities).


The results showed that the content of nickel varies strongly per product type, specifically for beers 148 types were analysed, and another 96 samples from raw materials, semi-finished products and rinsing liquids used during the production process. Only a few beers exceeded the drinking water standard for nickel. There was no correlation with the alcohol percentage, nor with specific steps in the production process and/or with the packaging material. Besides that, also the specific exemption of nickel from kitchen utilities was tested. All these samples (28) exceeded the specific exemption limit (100°C, 2h), and the first exemption phase gave the highest exemption. This was also the case for the elements Cr and Fe. Finally, different variants of stainless steel were studied. The presence of kitchen salt in the simulant made the exemption increase, except for a few steels. A contact of 10 days at 40°C showed a significantly higher exemption in comparison to higher temperatures and shorter contact time. This difference disappeared at the second and third contact period.

The exposure study showed that children run a higher exposure risk (chronic or acute). Vegetables, cereals and chocolate spreads can lead to high daily nickel intake in all studied age groups. The population’s nickel intake increases by taking the nickel exemption from food contact materials, with a wide variety between the materials.

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