New EU regulation on maximum levels for chlorate and perchlorate

Shiny apples

The European Commission has set new maximum residue levels for chlorate and perchlorate in foods. This is an important topic as the COVID-19 pandemic led to increased use of chlorine-based disinfectants. These produce chlorate as a by-product.

Chlorate and perchlorate laboratory analysis

Salts of chlorate were used as herbicides, but they are now banned in the European Union. The default maximum residue level of 0.01 mg/kg applies. But, chlorate and perchlorate are still a risk to human health. In a recent study, the European Food Safety Authority found that current chlorate levels in drinking water and foods are too high. This can negatively impact iodine uptake, especially among infants and children.

After years of evaluation, the European Commission published 2 new regulations in the summer of 2020. These set maximum levels for chlorates and perchlorates in foodstuff. Last year, we announced this expected change. Perchlorate mainly affects fruits and vegetables. The maximum allowed level is 0.05 mg/kg. The maximum allowed level of chlorate is:

  • 0.3 for dates and figs;
  • 0.7 for table olives;
  • 0.1 for edible nuts; and
  • 0.05 mg/kg for most other fruit and vegetables. This includes frozen fruit and vegetables.

Chlorate in fruit and vegetable processing

Chlorate is a by-product of chlorinated water. Chlorinated drinking water is standard in many countries. Chlorate levels may thus be above the default residue levels in many food products. This is especially relevant to fruit and vegetable processing.

In fruit and vegetable processing, water is used in many processes. These include:

  • Washing;
  • Sorting;
  • Rehydration of dried fruit;
  • Glazing of frozen products;
  • Dilution of concentrated juices and purees; and
  • Salty, sour and sweet solutions in canned products.

It is important that fruit and vegetable processors control the chemical composition of the water used in their production facilities. Fruit and vegetable processors should avoid using public drinking water, as it may increase the amount of chlorate by-product. Instead, they should use their own, chemically controlled water sources.

Chlorine is also a by-product of chlorine-based disinfectants. During the COVID-19 pandemic, chlorine-based disinfectant use increased. These disinfectants kill viruses and other microbiological contaminants. But, they should not be used to clean fruit and vegetable processing equipment, as this may result in chlorate above the allowed limits.


Perchlorate is also a by-product of water disinfection, but it can be formed in other ways too. Perchlorate occurs naturally in soil, but also as a result of nitrate fertilisers. Fruit and vegetables grown covered or in greenhouses are particularly vulnerable to perchlorate contamination. So, farmers should avoid fertilisers with high levels of perchlorates.

Learn more

To learn more about chlorates and perchlorates, attend one of the specialised webinars organised by Eurofins. Also, read our updated study on buyer requirements for processed fruit and vegetables and edible nuts.

Autentika Global wrote this news article for CBI.

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