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RKE Technical Bulletin – January 2024

Introduction to Environmental Contaminants in Food

Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Perchlorate and Radionuclides. Words that are not very common in everyday discussions but are real threats to food safety and can be present due to the environment. Environmental contaminants can be present in foods because they are in the soil, water, or air where foods are grown, raised, or processed. Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, and Cadmium, sometimes referred to as heavy metals or toxic elements, may occur naturally in the environment and are often at higher levels from past industrial uses and pollution. Perchlorate is a naturally occurring and manmade chemical that is present in the environment and occurs in some drinking water systems and in foods. Perchlorate levels may vary widely even within a single food based on where it is grown and the amount of perchlorate in the water. Perchlorate impacts human health by interfering with iodide uptake into the thyroid gland and the production of thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is needed for prenatal and postal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function. Lastly, in this introduction to environmental contaminants are radionuclides. Radionuclides are just as they sound, radioactive forms of elements, these occur naturally in the environment or may be present when radioactive materials are discharged into the environment from nuclear operations. Consuming food contaminated with radionuclides in a nuclear or radiological emergency will increase the amount of radioactivity in the body and could increase the health risks associated with exposure to radiation.

A number of persistent environmental contaminants tend to accumulate in all types of animals, and are frequently found in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Other chemicals, such as perchlorate and a variety of pesticides, are often found in fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural commodities. Consuming chemicals in food can lead to acute toxicity (emergency-grade poisoning that happens after one exposure or multiple exposures in a short period) and hundreds of serious problems, like cancer and heart disease.

The FDA monitors contaminant levels in foods, establishes regulations, and provides guidance to food manufacturers on how to meet their legal obligation to implement preventative controls as needed to significantly minimize or prevent chemical hazards in foods.

Submitted by: Rich Gibson ACE, CFSQA

The Brown Recluse Spider

Order: Araneae Family: Sicariidae Scientific Name: Loxosceles spp.

The Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) or Fiddleback/Violin spider gets its’ common names from its coloration and reclusive habits. It is one of three spiders in North America, which possess a dangerous necrotic venom. They can be commonly found in the Southwest, Midwest, and Southeast states of the country

Adults are approximately 1/4-1/2″ (6-11 mm) in total body length. The coloration is normally tan to dark brown, usually with a darker fiddle-shaped marking on the dorsum or top of the cephalothorax whose neck points towards the abdomen. The cephalothorax of an arthropod contains the head and thorax, which are joined or fused. The fiddle-shaped marking will vary in coloration depending on the spider’s age. More mature or older spiders will contain a darker coloration. Brown Recluse Spiders have six eyes as opposed to most other spiders which have eight. These eyes are arranged in three groups of two each (diads) in a semicircle. Juveniles are very similar to adults except for being smaller and slightly paler in color.

The female spider deposits 40-50 eggs in a silken egg sac. These egg sacs are produced over two to three months. Typically, from May to July. In approximately one month the egg will hatch and what are known as spiderlings are born. Full maturity will reached in one month. Males can live approximately 18 months indoors and females 20 months. For food, brown recluse spiders prefer live small prey. If their prey is large, they prefer it to be dead to avoid harming themselves. Their diet is comprised of primarily insects. These spiders have been known to withstand the scarcity or the absence of food. In dire conditions, they will cannibalize one another for nutrition. Their webbing, which is protein-based silk and produced from the spinnerets is irregular in shape.

Inside a structure, they can be found in almost any undisturbed area to which they can access. This may include areas such as attics, basements, crawlspaces, within corners, inside boxes, and areas of cluttered storage conditions. They have also been known to find themselves embedded in clothing and footwear. Homes designed with cedar shakes can be a known source of harborage. Within commercial facilities, they can be found in areas that generate heat. Outdoors, the following will be conducive to harborage: woodpiles, utility stations/boxes, underneath stone and bark, etc. Please note these spiders can be found in or adjacent to rodent bait stations.

Both male and female brown recluse spiders have the capability to inject venom and as such must be considered dangerous to human life. Upon being bit, the venom that is initially injected may produce dead tissue also known as necrosis. At times, the initial bite may not be felt. The area of the bite will look like a small blister at first, which will become swollen. An individual who has been bitten may experience relentlessness, fever as well as difficulty sleeping. As the affected area of the bite slowly deteriorates, an ulcerous sore may form. It’s imperative to seek medical attention immediately as this is not always the case. If the specimen, which caused the bite can be captured it would be advantageous to safely transport the specimen to the attending healthcare facility for further analysis.

Standard pest management practices for spiders should be implemented to eliminate and control the Brown Recluse. To eliminate available food sources, the removal/vacuuming of dead insects should be performed regularly. The reduction of cluttered storage conditions as well as not leaving clothing and footwear on the flooring is also advisable. Glue board monitors can be properly utilized indoors in conjunction with a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program to reduce population levels. If pesticide applications are being utilized, they must be in direct contact with the spider(s) for effective elimination. Recurring applications for several months must be performed to treat large infestations.

Remember: “The Label is the Law”.

Submitted by: Joseph A. Romito, ACE
Senior Food Safety Consultant/Auditor
Comprehensive Food Safety