Nicotine as an alkaloid
Nicotine is an alkaloid that is primarily found in the tabaco plant, Nicotiana tabacum, as well as in low concentrations in other nightshade plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants. It is formed in the roots of the tobacco plant and stored in the leaves, where it serves to protect the plant from being eaten by animals. Due to its strong insecticidal effect, nicotine was used as a pesticide in former times. This usage of the alkaloid was gentle on the plants and biodegradable. Although nicotine is sometimes still used as a pesticide in foreign countries, due to its high toxicity, the European Union banned this usage of nicotine in the year 2010.
At high concentrations, nicotine causes dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. At higher doses, it can have crippling effects and even lead to death. For adults, the lethal dose of nicotine is estimated to be 30-60 mg, which corresponds to a dose of 0.5-1.0 mg/kg bodyweight. For infants, even a dose of 10 mg nicotine is considered life-threatening, which is about the same amount contained in the average cigarette. In the year 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determined an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) and an Acute Reference Dose (ARfD), setting both at 0.0008 mg/kg bodyweight.
Since September 1st, 2008, the maximum residue levels permitted in food are regulated uniformly throughout the EU by the Regulation (EC) No 396/2005. This regulation does not explicitly specify maximum residue levels for nicotine. However, since this involves an active ingredient in plant protection products that has also undergone the EU active substance inspection in accordance with the Directive 91/414/EEC, nicotine is subject to this regulation and (unless any other special values have been determined) a maximum residue level of 0.01 mg/kg is valid for all food. A higher maximum residue level for nicotine has only been specified for a few products, such as tea, mushrooms, spices, and herbs.
The GBA Group has long-term experience with the analysis of nicotine in a variety of food products. Using highly sensitive LC-MS/MS analysis, we are capable of achieving low limits of quantification and ensuring that the legal requirements are met.