Council Regulation (EEC) Number 315/93 of 8 February 1993 laying down Community procedures for contaminants in food, the so-called Contaminants Regulation, which entered into force on 1 March 1993, forms the legal basis for an EU-wide setting of maximum levels for contaminants in food.
A contaminant is any substance not intentionally added to food which is present in such food as a result of environmental contamination (an environmental contaminant) or as a result of the production, manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food. The term "contaminant" does not cover insect fragments, animal hair and other extraneous matter.
A basic requirement of consumer health protection is to minimise contaminants in food as far as possible. The EU Contaminants Regulation requires Member States for example to prevent circulation of food containing a contaminant in quantities which cannot be tolerated for health or in particular toxicological reasons. Furthermore the Member States are required to reduce the contaminant contents to the lowest levels reasonably achievable by best practices at all stages of production and processing. Furthermore, for reasons of human health protection, the Regulation grants authority to the European Commission to establish EU-wide limit values for contaminants in food which are called "maximum levels". These maximum contents are going to be introduced by way of a non-exhaustive open Community list which can, for example, also list different maximum levels for different foodstuffs. The toxicological assessment of a substance determines the margin for setting these values for consumer health protection purposes. The establishment of maximum contaminant levels applicable throughout the EU provides for legally binding regulations on the contents of given contaminants in foodstuffs as permissible from the human health perspective.