For the past three decades, European spirits producers have dealt with continuously changing regulatory requirements and standard quality and safety guidelines for an ever-increasing level of consumer protection, according to Teodora Coldea, PhD, a lecturer in the department of food technology at the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. “In the EU, production of spirit drinks is regulated by the European Commission, with additional rules in each member state,” she says.
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Explore This IssueJune/July 2020
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Dr. Coldea points out that, while fruit spirits, in particular, are very popular worldwide, the Eastern and Central European countries of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Czech Republic are arguably among the most notable nations for producing fruit distillates. Two categories of fruits are typically used for distilled spirits, Dr. Coldea says, one with stones (plums, cherries, sour cherries, apricots and peaches, etc.) and the other without stones (pears, apples, and other berries).
Volatile Compounds Influence
The most important quality and safety parameters of fruit spirits are associated with the content of volatile compounds, including ethanol, esters, aldehydes, higher alcohols, methanol, furfural, heavy metal compounds, and hydrogen cyanide (HCN), Dr. Coldea notes. “While naturally occurring in fruits, or produced during fermentation or distillation, excessive amounts of these compounds can be toxic to humans when consumed,” she says. “Thus, the maximum allowable amounts in each type of distilled beverage are all specified in the EC regulations.”
“The legal limits of contaminants in alcoholic beverages are sometimes accidentally exceeded,” Dr. Coldea says. “The European Food Safety Authority recommends a limit of 1 mg/L in stone fruits spirits, but some European countries have regulated this content to even lower levels.”
Dr. Coldea emphasizes that all distilled spirits processed through industrial channels in Europe are tested for contaminants in accredited laboratories. “In some European countries, fruit spirits are often homemade and are not sufficiently tested for contaminants, which poses a risk for consumers,” she relates.
To solve the problems associated with both unintentional chemical contamination and intentional adulteration of alcoholic beverages, European spirits producers urgently need rapid, budget-friendly, in-house testing solutions, Dr. Coldea contends. “At present, chemical analyses are possible only in testing laboratories, which can be particularly costly for smaller sized spirits distillers,” she says.