Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) and their N
-oxides (PANO) are a group of toxic secondary plant metabolites occurring predominantly as contaminants in (herbal) teas, honeys and food supplements, as well as in spices and culinary herbs. Depending on the botanical origin of the contaminating plant, the pattern of PA/PANO can strongly vary within a sample. The current study aimed to broaden the existing data on the occurrence of PA/PANO in spices and culinary herbs. For this, 305 authentic samples covering 15 different matrices mainly harvested in 2016 or 2017 and originating from 36 countries were investigated for the presence of 44 PA/PANO. Fifty-eight percent of the samples contained at least one PA/PANO. The average sum content over all samples was 323 µg/kg (median of 0.9 µg/kg, 95% percentile of 665 µg/kg). The highest amount of 24.6 mg/kg was detected in an oregano sample. Additionally, conspicuous analyte patterns were discovered in samples from similar cultivation regions, indicating related botanical sources of PA/PANO contaminations. Particularly, oregano and cumin from Turkey often contained high amounts of PA/PANO. The results were used to assess the acute and chronic health risks related to PA/PANO intake via spices and culinary herbs, indicating a potential health risk in particular for adults and children with high consumption or when considering worst-case contamination scenarios of a sum content of 5500 µg/kg.
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