Belgian experts have highlighted the importance of assessing food safety when looking at the changing dietary habits of consumers.

The Scientific Committee provides advice on risk assessment and management in the food chain for the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) in Belgium.

Experts said there are shifts toward more plant-based and novel food sources and more consumers with specific dietary habits. Availability of new foods from the global market can also bring potential food safety risks.

Different challenges and possible solutions to guarantee food safety in a more sustainable food chain was the theme of the Scientific Committee’s conference in December 2019.

The committee has addressed the issue through several opinions such as the replacement of meat by alternative protein sources like edible insects, consumption of minimally processed items such as dairy products based on raw milk or production of healthier products through adapting the recipe with reduced salt content.

Scientific evidence often lacking
The symposium looked at the suitability of current risk assessment models and methods. Various types of risks including chemical, microbiological and allergens were discussed by scientists and representatives from industry and retail.

“In regard to food a general shift toward more plant-based (novel) food sources can be identified and, in parallel, we should also consider multiple subgroups of consumers with specific food habits either because of societal or health related reasons. This rapidly evolving diversity presents a real challenge for food safety risk assessors who are responsible to give advice in such matters which often lack scientific evidence,” said Dr. Etienne Thiry, chair of the Scientific Committee.

The first session focused on changing and diverse consumption patterns including the issues with collecting data on this topic, eating out of home and cultural influences affecting food habits.

The second part looked at evolution of the market. Safety risks related to newly developed products and dietary trends include insects, algae (microalgae, seaweed and duckweed), use of genetically modified microorganisms, superfoods, edible flowers and frozen vegetables consumed as ready-to-eat.

In the third session hazards related to changing consumption patterns and novel foods were addressed. The trend toward increased consumption of raw food and preserving leftovers under unfavorable conditions increases the risk of foodborne diseases especially in vulnerable consumers. Special attention was put on the risk of raw food, leftovers and cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Replacing animal proteins with alternative proteins in the diet could increase the risk of developing food allergies and exposure to chemical contaminants such as nickel, toxic plant proteins, mycotoxins and acrylamide.

The Scientific Committee issued a number of opinions in 2019 including thoughts on the analysis program for forbidden substances in the food chain and an evaluation of the risks in extending the conservation period of two months for pre-packaged foods frozen on the expiry date.

It also published advice on a draft royal decree concerning the control of Salmonella in poultry, one on sampling and analysis, and another on control of the quality of raw milk.

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