Food Contaminants

Improving scientific knowledge on food contaminants to ensure safer products

Background

Food contaminants are substances that may be present in certain foodstuffs due to environmental contamination, cultivation practices or production processes. Above certain levels, those substances can pose a threat to human health.

We focus on different types of food contaminants:

Process contaminants or Process-related contaminants - PRC
Process contaminants are substances that form in food or in food ingredients when they undergo chemical changes during processing (as defined by EFSA). An example of such contaminant is 3-MCPD for which the European Commission has set strict maximum levels in foodstuffs.

Natural toxins, mainly mycotoxins and phytotoxins
The World Health Organization defines natural toxins as toxic compounds that are naturally produced by living organisms (link). Those compounds can be harmful to other creatures, including humans, when eaten. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain fungi and are commonly present in food. They can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock.

Other environmental contaminants
There are a series of other contaminants which can end up in food. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), for example, have been regulated by the European Commission which has established maximum levels.

Objectives

As food contaminants poses a threat to consumers’ health, it is crucial to improve our knowledge about them. As such, the Food Contaminants Task Force:

  • Advances scientific knowledge on food contaminants – process-related contaminants, natural toxins, and other environmental contaminants - particularly focusing on assessing impacts on human health;
  • Addresses research gaps in toxicity, exposure, and analytical aspects of food contaminants;
  • Reviews & evaluates mitigation measures and supports for risk management strategies for food contaminants.

Impact

The Task Force works on emerging issues in food contaminants with our multistakeholder approach. Recently, our expert group on mineral oils risk assessment identified the knowledge gaps and research needs during a workshop and subsequent
proceedings by Hochegger et al., 2021.

Our publications and documents are recognized inter- nationally:

  • The publication by Berthiller et al., 2013 was quoted in the EFSA Risk assessment of ochratoxin A in food (EFSA scientific opinion, 2020);
  • Our practical guidance to Mitigation of Mycotoxins during Food Processing was recognized as a provider of “integrated solutions crucial for the efficient control and reduction of mycotoxins along food and feed chains” at the 2019 World Mycotoxins Forum;
  • The publication by Karlovsky et al, 2016 assessing the impact of processing and detoxification treatments on mycotoxins has been accessed more than 21,000 times and cited 235 times, highlighting the quality of the Task Force work on mycotoxins.

For more detailed information, please contact Dr Simeon Bourdoux at sbourdoux@ilsieurope.be or  Belinda Antonio at bantonio@ilsieurope.be

Task Force Members


* Scientific Advisor

Expert Groups

Process-Related Contaminants as an Example for Holistic Dosimetry of Endogenous and Exogenous Exposures

Background & Objectives
In modern risk assessment, deriving accurate exposure estimates can present serious challenges and uncertainties. To some extent, this is due to the fact that today’s consumer exposure is multifactorial, including exposure from exogenous environmental, occupational and food related sources; while in some cases also endogenous exposure adds to the aggregate exposure. For some compounds it has already been well established that endogenous exposure may add substantially to the total exposure. For instance, methanol and ethanol and their oxidative metabolites formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are ingested with food when consuming fruits and certain beverages. Those compounds are, however, also continuously formed endogenously in the course of physiological intermediary energy metabolism. In cases where endogenous exposure is proven to add substantially to the exposome, it becomes essential to better understand the contribution of in vivo background occurrence, as compared to the ingestion from exogenous sources, to arrive at a comprehensive risk assessment.

Output
A peer-reviewed publication providing an overview of the state-of-the-art with respect to understanding the contribution of endogenous exposure to the overall exposure of those process-related contaminants that also occur as constitutive physiological components of mammalian intermediary energy metabolism or other processes in the organism.

Update on Risk-Benefit Assessment of Foods: Approaches to Facilitate Application

Background & Objectives
All foods contain chemical and biological impurities some of which may be viewed as contaminants of toxicological or microbiological relevance, depending on the definition used. Classical risk assessment does not reconcile the benefit to health of the food against the potential effects of the contaminants or the impact of mitigation measures that may be applied to reduce contaminants. A contaminant-centric view of a food can result in an incomplete understanding of the net health benefits of food by groups such as policy makers.
As such, methods for the comparison between benefits and risks have been developed, including the publication of guidance materials. Despite the availability of guidance, there have been a limited number of examples of risk-benefit analysis being used as an input for the risk management of foods by food safety agencies.

Output
This activity will review the evolution and application of risk-benefit assessment since its infancy, and thereby
understand:

  • Why risk-benefit assessment has not been more widely applied by food safety agencies in Europe?
  • What are the available applications of RBA since the publication of guidance and what are the lessons
    learned?
  • Whether existing guidance can be amended to improve applicability?
  • The above learnings will be tested via a limited number of worked examples and summarized in a peer-reviewed publication.

Mineral Oil Risk Assessment: Knowledge Gaps and Roadmap Completed
In collaboration with the Packaging Materials Task Force

Background & Objectives
This activity is the continuation of the multi-stakeholder workshop held in February 2019.
The array of knowledge gaps on mineral oils in food, including the challenges posed by analytical methodologies and the numerous potential routes of exposure, were the starting point of the workshop. As such, the workshop objectives were to:

Identify the fundamental knowledge gaps to understand the potential risks of mineral oils in food.
Build a multi-stakeholder consensus on the scientific understanding of exposure assessment, hazard characterisation, risk assessment and analytical methods for mineral oils in food.

Output
This activity will result in a recommendation document that will determine potential best practices to align methods available for untargeted screening and future testing.
To develop it, the draft will be discussed at an international workshop organised back-to-back with the 7th International Packaging Symposium.

Expert Group Members

Process-Related Contaminants as an Example for Holistic Dosimetry of Endogenous and Exogenous Exposure

Update on Risk-Benefit Assessment of Foods: Approaches to Facilitate Application

Mineral Oil Risk Assessment: Knowledge Gaps and Roadmap Completed

Publications

A to Z

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Multimedia

Process-Related Compounds and Natural Toxins Task Force – One-pager

Webinar - New!

Click here to watch the webinar on ‘Mycotoxin Prevention and Control: Food Processing Mitigation Strategies’.

Podcast

Click here to watch the Podcast on 'Dietary Exposure Mitigation to Chemical Contaminants'.