Gesundheit für Mensch, Tier & Pflanze

(Methyl) mercury in foodstuffs

Final report of the priority action A-056-17

The aim of this priority action was to investigate foods known to contain residues of mercury. This mainly concerns fish and seafood. For all samples, the total mercury content and, in addition, the proportion of methylmercury responsible for the toxic effect were determined. 60 samples from all over Austria were examined:

  • No sample was objected to because of its mercury content
  • One sample of catfish was rejected due to elevated bacterial counts.

Fish and seafood are major sources of mercury intake. Mercury can be stored in the body in two forms, as inorganic mercury and organic or methylmercury. Methylmercury is mainly responsible for possible harmful effects in the central nervous system in humans. When following the Austrian consumption recommendation for fish, the tolerable weekly intake for methylmercury is exhausted up to 35% for adults and up to 84% for children. For food, the total mercury content is regulated. Depending on the species of fish, the maximum level is 0.5mg/kg to 1mg/kg. Especially in predatory fish (e.g. tuna, shark, swordfish, halibut...), less frequently in freshwater fish and in seafood, mercury is found in elevated concentrations.

Last updated: 18.07.2022

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