The ANSES published on November 30,2017 a notice concerning the risk for the consumer regarding the consumption of food supplements based on spirulina.

49 reports of adverse reactions likely to be linked to the consumption of this type of supplement were collected under the French Nutrivigilance system.

Spirulina is a cyanobacteria of the genus Arthrospira. It develops on the surface of the water and grows naturally in warm, fresh water (25°C), alkaline water (pH 8-11.5), rich in carbonates and bicarbonates but also in nitrates, phosphates and iron. It is used in the form of food supplements, as a colouring agent but also in animal feed.

Spirulina is a foodstuff subject to Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides.

Three species of spirulina are authorised in food supplements under the Order of 24 June 2014:

Spirulina major

Spirulina maxima

Spirulina platensis

Spirulina has been produced industrially since the 1980s and since the 2000s it has been produced by photobioreactor.

In France, it is sold in the form of powder or food supplements with an intake of 0.25 to 5 g of spirulina per day.

Spirulina may contain various contaminants: cyanobacteria of other genera and their toxins, heavy metals and other bacterial species.

Cyanotoxins:

They are produced by several genera of cyanobacteria and are classified into three categories: hepathotoxins (microcystins), neurotoxins (anatoxins, saxitoxins and BMMA) and dermatotoxins.

Cyanobacteria producing cyanotoxins:

Several publications have reported the presence of toxic cyanobacteria (Anabaena sp., Anabaenopsis sp., Phormidium sp., Oscillatoria sp., Synechococcus sp.), associated with the presence of cyanotoxins (anatoxin A, microcystins).

Other bacteria (excluding cyanobacteria):

Spirulina production conditions at a pH of about 10 reduce the growth of pathogenic microorganisms (Listeria, salmonella, coliforms, etc.).

However, during harvesting, washing, drying, storage or packaging, depending on hygiene practices and the water used, contamination may occur.

Contamination by metallic trace elements:

The metal content in spirulina is directly related to water quality.

Most studies generally show acceptable levels of metals, but some analyses have also revealed levels in excess of the limits set in the EU regulations on food supplements.

The majority of products containing only spirulina (Arthrospira spp.) do not have a level of cyanotoxins of concern, however, data available in the literature do not exclude the production of hepatotoxic microcystins by Arthrospira spp. and contamination by other cyanobacteria that produce cyanotoxins.

Bacterial contamination, although rare in finished products, occurs during product handling.

Quantities of metals at concentrations exceeding EU limits or the specifications of the USP dietary supplement compendium have been identified in commercial spirulina samples.

The Expert Committee concluded that, given the risk of contamination by metals and cyanobacteria, it is important to ensure the quality of production water, the selection of inoculum and control of the different stages of production.

It also recommends the introduction of a microcystin threshold in food supplements containing spirulina.

Know that your Phytocontrol laboratory is able to carry out the analysis of ETM in spirulina and food supplements based on spirulina as well as water quality analyses under COFRAC accreditation, the parameters concerned can be consulted via our technical appendices COFRAC N°1-1904 and N°1-6066 available in your customer area or on the COFRAC website.

Enclosed is the link to the full text of this ANSES NOTICE: ANSES’ notice on Spirulina