Ethyl carbamate in food
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Ethyl carbamate is a chemical that can form from naturally present compounds in certain food and drinks during the fermentation process.
The main source of dietary exposure to ethyl carbamate is from alcoholic drinks.
Higher levels of ethyl carbamate can form in certain types of alcoholic drinks, such as those made using fruits with a pit.
Very low levels of ethyl carbamate have been found in other types of fermented foods like yogurt or sauerkraut.
Ethyl carbamate has been shown to cause cancer in experimental animals exposed to high doses over their lifetime.
There's no conclusive evidence that much lower dietary levels cause cancer in humans. However, Health Canada and international organizations agree that ethyl carbamate may be a health concern and levels in alcoholic drinks should be minimized.
What we're doing
In 2016, we assessed ethyl carbamate under our Chemicals Management Plan. This assessment identified a potential concern to human health from certain alcoholic drinks.
We've fulfilled a number of risk management commitments to keep dietary exposure to ethyl carbamate as low as possible. We've also established maximum levels for ethyl carbamate in various alcoholic beverages sold in Canada, including:
- distilled spirits
- fruit brandies and liqueurs
- table wine and fortified wines
We've allowed the use of the food enzyme urease in wine and sake sold in Canada since 2013. This enzyme helps lower the formation of ethyl carbamate. The List of Permitted Food Enzymes sets out authorized enzymes that food products sold in Canada can use.
We continue to monitor the levels of ethyl carbamate in these alcoholic beverages sold in Canada for compliance with maximum levels.
We also recommend that food manufacturers follow industry guidance and use ethyl carbamate reduction strategies for alcoholic drinks.
For an electronic copy of the Food Directorate's Risk Management Commitments for Ethyl Carbamate as Part of Canada's Chemicals Management Plan, please contact our publications office or send an e-mail: email@example.com with the words "HPFB BCS Ethyl Carbamate RMC 2022-eng" in the subject line.
Learn more about:
- Chemicals Management Plan
- List of Permitted Food Enzymes (List of Permitted Food Additives)
- Health Canada's Maximum Levels for Chemical Contaminants in Foods
- Risk management approach: Carbamic acid, ethyl ester (ethyl carbamate)
Reduce your exposure
You can take some simple measures to reduce your exposure to ethyl carbamate from foods.
Follow the advice in Canada's food guide and eat a variety of healthy foods each day. If you drink alcohol, follow Canada's low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines.
If you drink sake and fruit brandy, limit the amount to no more than:
- Sake: 4 drinks per week
- Fruit brandy: 2 drinks per week
One standard drink is based on the amount of alcohol and represents roughly:
- 114 ml (4 ounces) of sake at 15% alcohol by volume
- 43 ml (1½ ounces) of fruit brandy at 40% alcohol by volume
Learn more about:
- Chemicals Management Plan - Ethyl carbamate
- Update on risk management commitments for ethyl carbamate
- Industry guidance
- Code of practice for the prevention and reduction of ethyl carbamate contamination in stone fruit distillates (Codex Alimentarius) (PDF format)
- Recommendation on the prevention and reduction of ethyl carbamate (European Union) (PDF format)
- Information on ethyl carbamate in foods and beverages (United States Food and Drug Administration)
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