Chemicals in Food
The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) closely collaborates with research institutes, universities and international organisations worldwide with the aim of estimating exposure to chemicals in food.
Chemical substances are used in many stages of food production and distribution and play an important role.
Food additives are used, for example, to prolong shelf life and make food more attractive through flavourings and colour. Other chemicals are used to fight diseases in farm animals and crops.
Furthermore, to keep food hygienic and attractive it needs to be kept in containers or protected by packaging materials that are made of chemical substances such as plastics.
There are a whole range of issues which the regulator has to be vigilant about: additives, flavouring, contaminants, pesticide residues, food contact materials, hormones in meat not to mention fraudulent practices.
While there are clear benefits to the use of chemicals in food production and distribution, these have to be balanced against the potential health risks due to the side effects and residues of these chemicals.
"You are what you eat," they say. European efforts to better understand the ingredients and handling of food for human consumption are an important safeguard in the food production system. Flavours, additives and packaging are a major part of the modern food production chain. Yet, recent years have witnessed an increasing focus on safety of the food chain and have highlighted concerns for consumers with respects to the presence of chemicals in foods. Consequently there has been a need clearly highlighted to offer developments for the improved assessment of exposure to such chemicals across the EU.
On 9 December 2013, on the occasion of the Plastics & Paper in Contact with Foodstuffs 2013 PIRA conference, the JRC launched a downloadable tool to estimate consumers exposure to food additives, flavourings and food contact materials. The tool, called FACET (standing for Flavourings, Additives, and food Contact materials Expose Tool) is a desktop software application, which contains databases of chemical concentrations for flavourings and additives, chemical occurrence data, industry data on retail packaging composition, and food consumption diaries. These databases are combined into probabilistic dietary exposure models that estimate exposure in different populations of consumers in the EU.
The FACET tool is a result of a project of the same name, funded under the 7th Framework Programme. The aim of the project running between 2008-12 was to significantly reduce the uncertainty in the level of dietary exposure for these classes of substances in the EU population. The JRC was part of the project consortium and was designated as the responsible entity for the dissemination and sustainability of the tool.
Throughout 2013 the JRC has been overseeing the testing of the prototype software by core users and organised a number of trainings for the industry associations and stakeholders that can use FACET as a screening tool for R&D and innovation. A dedicated meeting was organised also for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in the context of specific exposure assessment to these categories of substances.
FACET has two main added values in the context of exposure assessment. It reduces the uncertainties for the evaluation for these three specific sectors and thus FACET constitutes a unique tool for post market monitoring since it reflects the real exposure of a targeted population to a food chemical, taking into account the variability of concentration and the real occurrence for each food category. In addition, in the context of innovation, the tool can be used to explore changes in the use levels of the pattern of use of existing flavours, additives or food contact materials along with the exposure that could result from introducing new substances in any of the three sectors. Importantly, the industry were project partners are already familiar with the tool, thus their comments on usability have been integrated into the software.
The overall impact of FACET will be evident at a number of levels including protection of the consumer, fostering innovation in the food chain, driving the scientific approach, and influencing international food regulatory affairs through a focused risk assessment approach.
The software and further information is available on the website: The FACET Exposure Tool
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