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Phytochemicals are the focus of European food safety authorities. The EU is currently discussing strategies to minimise in particular the occurrence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) and their N-oxides in food and animal feed due to their potential harm to health. According to the latest risk analysis, producers are recommended to aim for minimal levels of PA compounds, above all in herbs, cereals, vegetable dietary supplements, tea and honey. Now the laboratories from SGS Germany can support customers with advanced analysis for vegetable contamination in food and animal feed.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are formed by over 6,000 plant species. Over 600 of these phytochemicals and their N oxides are already known and some PA compounds are regarded as being toxic or carcinogenic. They occur naturally in asters (composites), borage plants and legumes, which form them to ward off predators, like caterpillars or insects. However, large concentrations of PA compounds can also be harmful to the health of humans. They can inadvertently enter cereal harvests through weeds or contaminate herbs, plant dietary supplements, tea or honey through foreign seeds and pollen.

Detecting pyrrolizidine alkaloids in lab tests

There have been no standardised test procedures or limits for assessing PA compounds to date. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommend minimising the PA content of vegetable food and animal feed with reference to the current common acute reference dose (ARfD) of 0.007 µg/kg KG/day.

Breadth of analysis for pyrrolizidine alkaloids

SGS's Hamburg laboratory now has the methods and standards to detect all pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) and their N-oxides currently in the spotlight within an appropriate framework. The independent test institute is examining food industry and agricultural products, among others, for the following PA compounds:

  • Echimidine and Echimidine N-oxide
  • Erucifoline and Erucifoline N-oxide
  • Europine and Europine N-oxide
  • Heliotrine and Heliotrine N-oxide
  • Intermedine/Indicine and Intermedine-N-Oxid/Indicine-N-Oxid
  • Jacobine and Jacobine N-oxide
  • Lasiocarpine and Lasiocarpine N-oxide
  • Lycopsamine and Lycopsamine N-oxide
  • Monocrotaline and Monocrotaline N-oxide
  • Retrorsine and Retrorsine N-oxide
  • Senecionine and Senecionine N-oxide
  • Seneciphylline and Seneciphylline N-oxide
  • Senecivernine and Senecivernine N-oxide
  • Senkirkine
  • Trichodesmine

Identification of phytochemicals with detection limits of 5.0 µg/kg to 0.1 µg/kg is possible, depending on the substance and matrix, using liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).

Contaminants in food: Advice and analysis

Do you wish to eliminate the contamination of your products by harmful plant substances? Do you want to safeguard yourself and your products through independent laboratory analysis? SGS can support you with appropriate testing for pyrrolizidine alkaloids and their N-oxides in food and animal feed. Talk to us about the comprehensive range of our analysis.


Agriculture, Food
Maria Oelze
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D-10589 Berlin
Telefon: +49 (0)30 34607 786

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