Changing consumer behavior is driving many of the emerging issues in food safety, according to experts.

This factor was identified for half of the 13 issues discussed in 2019 by emerging risk specialists as part of work by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Potential issues were classed according to the hazard, with nine being microbiological and five chemical, or driver identified with six being due to new consumer trends and two because of new processor technology.

Of 17 potential issues debated, 13 were judged to be emerging topics. One was the identification of emerging food allergens as EU regulation on labeling does not apply to commercial airlines. The recommendation was that countries do education campaigns for public transport companies where food is served.

GBS and minimally processed foods
Others included human consumption of microplastics and nanoplastics in table salt; cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabidiol-containing products; foodborne invasive infections with Streptococcus agalactiae, also known as group B Streptococcus (GBS), hepatoxicity associated with food supplements containing turmeric and food safety risks linked to the trend of minimally processing.

An outbreak with Streptococcus agalactiae occurred in Singapore in 2015, affecting 238 people. Raw consumption of regional freshwater fish was identified as the source of infections. Since Europe imports fish from Southeast Asia and it is not always prepared well cooked, and because of raw fish consumption habits like sushi and ceviche, foodborne infections in Europe may also occur. Earlier this year, officials in Singapore said they were investigating an increase in GBS cases.

The Italian System for Phyto- and Nutri-Vigilance received 27 reports of hepatotoxicity associated with curcumin-containing supplements from December 2018 to June 2019. All but one were hospitalized with acute hepatitis. The age of cases ranged from 29 to 71 and 24 were female. EFSA and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety in Germany (BVL) are considering presenting at a workshop on emerging risks in food supplements.

For the minimally processed foods trend, sous vide cooking and reduced additives usage were discussed. Sous vide is where raw or par-cooked food is sealed in a vacuumed laminated plastic pouch or container, heat-treated by controlled cooking, rapidly cooled, and then reheated for service after chilled storage. Avoidance of additives, such as preservatives and antioxidants makes products more vulnerable to the development of pathogenic microorganisms during shelf life.

A trend towards light products with decreased fat content and with clean label considerations may present new levels of risk due to low concentration of preservatives. The demand for slow cooking at a lower temperature was also discussed.

The potential knock-on impact of reducing plastic
The report summarizes the activities of all groups involved in the emerging risk identification procedure and issues identified in 2019. EFSA’s contributing networks include the Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN), the Stakeholder Discussion Group on Emerging Risks, EFSA’s units, scientific panels, and the scientific committee and its working groups.

One area not classed as an emerging issue was the increased risk of foodborne illness due to proposed reductions and bans on food and beverage service packaging made with plastic. These items help prevent cross-contamination of food products, and a ban on, or reduced access to them, in the absence of changes in consumer practice, will lead to greater persistence and circulation of foodborne pathogens within the supply chain, and increased risks of illness in Europe, according to Serving Europe, which represents branded food and beverage service chains at EU level.

EFSA and member states said they would evaluate the issue and consider risk and benefit in future risk assessments.

Another 28 issues resulting from countries’ own horizon scanning were presented to EREN. Germany raised the topics of E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria in raw wheat; tortillas linked to aflatoxin exposure in Guatemala and supplements vitamin C intake and increased risk of kidney stones.

France flagged unexpected tick-borne viruses in Europe; high opioids content in poppy seed and circulation of coronaviruses in wildlife in the country. Lychee intoxication linked to encephalitis was a concern for the World Health Organization as was foraged food in urban environments for EFSA.

Hungary brought attention to a number of issues including risks related to homemade rice milk and other plant-based milk; lab-grown and plant-based meat; Salmonella migration into the bloodstream; unsafe levels of radiation in Japanese processed food imports; Acinetobacter in raw meat and ecdysterone in spinach extract.

The Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) has investigated using social media analysis as an early warning system for foodborne outbreaks. FSVO and the HumanTech Institute tested a platform that tracks food intoxication in Switzerland in real-time by analyzing posts on Twitter.

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