A trend for raw pet food, potential growth of a toxin due to climate change, and a rise in infections from an fungicide-resistant mold have been identified as emerging risks, based on recent data.

The topics emerged in a report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA networks to monitor such issues include the Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN) created in 2010 and a stakeholder discussion group on emerging risks.

A total of 17 potential emerging issues were discussed in 2017 but five did not meet set criteria. These criteria are: new hazard, new or increased exposure, new susceptible group, and new driver.

Topics were classed according to categories, by hazard such as microbiological (six issues), chemical (four) or other such as antimicrobial resistance and allergies (none) and/or the driver underlying them like illegal activity (none), new consumer trends (three), climate change-related (two) and new process or technology (two).

The report concluded it cannot currently be determined whether contamination of foods with residues of pesticides used to control Zika virus vectors in South America and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O121 in flour are emerging risks.

Three example issues
The pet food issue related to a Brucella suis biovar 1 infection in a dog fed commercial raw meat pet food and raw heads of hare in summer 2016.

Brucella suis is a known pathogen but the new consumer trend for this type of pet food may cause a higher risk for humans and domestic animals. An investigation suggested the dog was infected by eating raw meat which contained hare from Argentina. The imported hare by-products cannot be placed on the market as raw pet food under existing legislation.

The second issue was about climate change and the increasing incidence of cyanobacteria, diatoms and dinoflagellate blooms worldwide.

If production of BMAA by cyanobacteria, diatoms and dinoflagellates is confirmed, this toxin could bio-magnify in the food chain culminating in human consumption. Beta- methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) may contribute to the increasing incidence of neurodegenerative diseases in the EU.

The third topic was an increase in infections with azole-resistant Aspergillus spp.

Azole resistance in the mold Aspergillus spp. caused by frequent application of azole fungicides in agriculture with modifications in agricultural practices might promote an increasing environmental exposure for humans with azole-resistant Aspergillus spores. Emergence of azole resistance in Aspergillus spp. might result in higher pesticide residues and multiple residues of different fungicides in plant foods.

No conclusion on emerging risk
One of the risks not concluded on involved possible contamination of foods with residues of pesticides used to control Zika virus vectors in South America. Nine of the 26 recommended vector control pesticides were not included in the 2012–2014 EU-coordinated control programme (EUCP) while two were on the list but only for animal products.

Preliminary analysis based on pesticide residue monitoring data showed no significant change in detection rates or rate of maximum residue level (MRL) exceedance between 2014 and 2015. The public health emergency was declared from Feb. to Nov. 2016, so evidence of increased use or residues in food crops would be found in 2016 data, which was at the time largely unavailable.

To combat this, EREN members shared results on national data from 2016 monitoring plans on cyphenothrin, phenothrin, methoprene, naled, novaluron, temephos and prallethrin, permethrin and resmethrin and EFSA alerted DG Health and Food Safety to include the above vector control pesticides in the EUCP.

Another non-concluded issue involved STEC in flour. Outbreaks of E. coli O121 were reported in the United States and Canada in 2015 and 2016. Prior to these incidents, it is not thought such outbreaks were commonly reported.

Recommendations by the emerging risk networks included Germany and Switzerland sharing results of a monitoring program with EREN and INFOSAN and EFSA presenting to the Biological Hazards and Contaminants Unit and BIOHAZ panels and the International Microbiological Food Safety Liaison Group.

The EFSA Stakeholder Discussion group on Emerging Risks (StaDG-ER) concluded no cases are reported in Europe due to different agricultural practices.

Food poisoning due to squashes and other cucurbits was also discussed but not considered an emerging issue. In the last five years, French poison control centers have recorded more than 350 cases of food poisoning due to cucurbits. Consumption of inedible vegetables occurs due to mislabeling of products in supermarkets or self-cultivated inedible plants.

Unilever and Coca-Cola also gave an insight into their emerging risk activities. Unilever has a system to monitor potential emerging issues including internal control at the company, e.g. consumer care lines, comparison of processes and products with other companies, regular checks on the government control systems (e.g. RASFF), liaison with academia and non-governmental organizations, as well as regular monitoring of the media.

Issues identified were grouped into 38 topics and five different focus areas. The firm uses a matrix to classify an issue’s relevance to stakeholders by plotting importance to them against impact on the business (’moderate’, ‘high’ and ‘very high’).

Horizon scanning at Coca-Cola was implemented through a third party which delivered monthly reports through an emerging risk screening tool.

Coca-Cola’s advanced warning system has been operating since 2005. The internal network can capture and assess the relevance of potential issues for the firm’s supply chain. Sources of information monitored are: RASFF, involvement in external industry networks, supplier, customer and academic networks, the media and food fraud databases.

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