A widespread recall of salt “dangerous for health”? It’s wrong

A widespread recall of salt “dangerous for health”? It’s wrong
A widespread recall of salt “dangerous for health”? It’s wrong

The average global salt consumption is estimated at more than 10 grams per day by the WHO, which recommends limiting this intake to 5 grams daily. In spring 2024, videos widely relayed on TikTok claim that salt from the French brand La Baleine would be targeted by a recall throughout France because of the additives it contains. But there is no alert of this type, the company and the Ministry of Agriculture assured AFP. The health effects of new food additives have been monitored by the European Union before being placed on the market since 2009 and previously authorized products must be subject to re-evaluation.

Urgent, salt recalled everywhere in France! If you have La Baleine salt, stop using it immediately: this product has been identified as a serious health hazard“, assures a video published on TikTok on April 29.

Alert […] La Baleine brand salt has been recalled, representing a real health hazard“, claims another video published the day before on the same social network.

At the end of April, dozens of similar videos were shared by accounts presenting themselves as broadcasting “news“, accumulating more than 40,000 shares and several million views.

Screenshots taken on TikTok on 05/15/2024
Screenshots taken on TikTok on 05/15/2024

It’s serious what’s happening all these [sic] contamination“, “My partner throw it away [sic] today following this“: in the comments, several Internet users are worried. Others, however, are more circumspect, calling on the profiles behind these viral videos to share their sources.

We also received a message on the AFP Facteur WhatsApp number from a user questioning the veracity of these videos.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the global average salt consumption is estimated at 10.8 grams per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of less than 5 grams of salt per day (one teaspoon)” (link archived here). In France, ANSES recorded in 2017 a daily dose of salt of 7 grams for women and 9 grams for men (link archived here).

No reminders

On the government website “Consumer recall”, which lists recalled consumer products, no alert concerning salt, whatever its form or brand, has been issued in recent weeks (link archived here).

The last recall of a product of this type dates from September 2023 and concerned a bucket of coarse kitchen salt from the Cerebos brand which may contain pieces of wood (link archived here).

According to the “Rappel conso” search engine, none of the more than 11,000 alerts published since the launch of the site in 2021 has targeted a product from the La Baleine brand.

Contacted by AFP, the Ministry of Agriculture, which supervises the Directorate General of Food, confirmed that no recall has recently been issued for La Baleine brand products.

The Compagnie des Salins, owner of the La Baleine brand, also denied the existence of an alert on its salts sold in France. “There is no reminder“, a company representative assured AFP, explaining that they became aware of the viral videos at the end of April.

According to him, these videos caused “a certain number of consumer questions“, who would have shared their concerns with supermarkets.

Controlled additives

According to viral videos, the supposed recall of La Baleine salt would be motivated by the presence of dangerous additives.

A cardiologist has issued harsh warnings about consuming the salt which contains dangerous amounts of the anti-caking agent E535, also known as ferrocyanide, and magnesium carbonate, which has a laxative effect“, claims one of them.

Excess ferrocyanide can cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting and breathing problems, seizures or circulatory collapse“, the narrator continues.

No details are given on the identity of the cardiologist mentioned and an advanced search on the internet did not allow AFP to find the trace of this professional.

Sodium ferrocyanide and magnesium carbonate, respectively E535 and E504 according to the European nomenclature of food additives, are used as anti-caking agents.

The first is only authorized in salt and its substitutes by the European Union and must not exceed a concentration of 20 mg/kg (link archived here).

According to data from the European Salt Producers’ Association, representing the majority of European salt producers, the average concentration in their sodium ferrocyanide products is 8 mg/kg with a maximum observed at 15 mg/kg (link archived here ).

The second can be added to certain cheeses and salts based on the “quantum satis“, that is to say without official limit as well as up to “7% based on defatted dry matter expressed as potassium carbonates” in certain cocoa products.

As the Ministry of Agriculture states, “for a food additive to be usable in the European Union, it must have authorization, systematically based on a prior assessment of the risks linked to its use. This independent assessment is carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)” (link archived here).

Under this rule, which has applied since 2009, it is possible to carry out reassessments in the event of new scientific research.

In parallel, “EFSA is required to re-evaluate all food additives authorized for use in the EU before January 20, 2009“, indicates the authority on its site (archived link here).

If this task “was expected to be completed by 2020 […] EFSA has so far re-evaluated more than 70% of the 315 food additives” approved before 2009, she specifies.

Ferrocyanides, including sodium ferrocyanide, were the subject of a new analysis in 2018 (link archived here).

According to these researchers, the absorption of ferrocyanides by the human body is “weak“and without accumulation effect.”There are no concerns regarding genotoxicity and carcinogenicity“and there is”no safety concerns under currently permitted conditions of use and usage levels“, they assure.

In their study, the scientists set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of ferrocyanide at 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, in particular to protect the kidneys from any toxicity.

Magnesium carbonate, for its part, is still awaiting a new evaluation.

According to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), “The main effect of excess oral magnesium is a laxative effect. However, the human body can adapt to this laxative effect over time. […] Toxic hypermagnesemia, manifested for example by hypotension or muscle weakness, is only observed at oral doses of magnesium greater than 2500 mg of magnesium (equivalent to 8.4 g of magnesium carbonate)” (link archived here).

Nanomaterials

Since 2020, the National Food Safety Agency (ANSES) has suspected that sodium ferrocyanide and magnesium carbonate contain nanomaterials (link archived here). Suspicions that are not mentioned in the viral videos.

In many fields such as the food industry, manufactured nanomaterials are used for their specific properties at the nanoscale (optical, mechanical properties, etc.) as well as for their large specific surface area. Manufactured nanomaterials can be added voluntarily as food additives or as technological additives in the formulation of materials in contact with foodstuffs.“, explains the agency.

ANSES has classified sodium ferrocyanide and magnesium carbonate as “substances present in human food and for which the presence of manufactured nanomaterials is suspected and not confirmed after review of the literature and data“.

The use of nanomaterials is not traceable enough, the organization regretted, calling on public authorities to strengthen the monitoring of these products, which are often poorly known and whose possible risks are worrying (link archived here).

Because if France has made it compulsory since 2013 to declare “substances in nanoparticle state“, in a register”R-Nano“, managed by ANSES, the system has numerous limits.

Poor level of intelligence and limited data validity“thus make their exploitation difficult, note the health agency experts, pointing out, among other things, exemptions, the possible invocation of business secrecy or even “the absence of verification of the validity of the declared data“.

They also highlight the absence of a declaration obligation for end users, distributors for example, which prevents achieving “completely” traceability.

In 2022, ANSES “reiterate[ait] its recommendation to limit the exposure of workers and consumers to nanomaterials until their safety can be demonstrated, and to similarly avoid the dispersion of these particles in the environment. To this end, the Agency recommends favoring products free of nanomaterials and equivalent in terms of function, effectiveness and cost.” (link archived here).

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