The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has identified emerging food safety risks, food chain vulnerability assessments and fresh produce traceability as areas for research.
The agency said research is needed to address gaps in knowledge, support regulation and identify emerging issues and threats to the food system in Ireland.
FSAI publishes areas of priority research for bodies that fund such work and scientists in institutes so they can be part of research calls by funding agencies or the subject of researcher-led funding proposals. The research needs document includes topics that would help the risk assessment and management work of FSAI and support protection of public health.
Fraud, produce and circular economy
One topic is vulnerability assessments. These are necessary to prioritize monitoring and surveillance and understand security of the food chain. Key supply chains in Ireland should be mapped and points of vulnerability established. Priorities are the beef, pork, poultry and white fish product sectors.
Synthetic biology remixes DNA sequences to create foods not seen in nature but food safety is not always addressed during the development phase. A report looking at this area, its potential use in the food sector and possible food safety aspects could be a useful resource for regulatory scientists, according to FSAI.
Evidence suggests potential involvement of fresh produce in outbreaks but a definitive epidemiological link has never been established in Ireland. Research is needed to develop a traceability system accessible by all parties and the authorities that will help rapid identification and recall of unsafe produce, said FSAI.
The authority said there is a need for more accurate detection of hazards and multiple hazard methods capable of simultaneously detecting a number of issues in food. Methods also need to be cheaper, simpler and faster. Development of rapid test kits to detect mycotoxins is another area as it is expected contamination of Irish crops will increase in the future with warmer and wetter weather.
Another area is impact of the circular economy on food safety. Incidents have highlighted the use of recycled materials at farm level leading to contamination of meat and milk with persistent organic pollutants. Inappropriate use of recycled materials could also lead to contamination of food because of substances leaching out.
There is a need to establish seasonal prevalence of natural toxins such as tropane, pyrrolizidine, and ergot alkaloids in Irish grown crops. Potential impacts on occurrence of plant toxins because of changing EU policies for reduced use of pesticides and enhanced biodiversity also needs to be examined.
Additives, fishery and nutrivigilance
The EU Commission has proposed lower maximum permitted levels for nitrate and nitrite and there are concerns in the Irish industry about the impact on cured meat products in terms of stability and shelf-life. Any study should assess the minimum amount of these additives that are required to ensure microbial safety and stability throughout the shelf-life of meat products, according to FSAI.
There is concern that paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) findings will become more regular and increase in geographical distribution. Occurrence in Irish coastal waters has led to the contamination of shellfish in classified production areas.
Creation of a nutrivigilance system in Ireland is also mentioned. This is an adverse event reporting system that provides early signals of emerging chemical risks from foods or food supplements and already exists in some European countries. There have been incidents such as wild mushroom and apricot kernel poisoning and presence of illegal steroids in sports supplements in Ireland in recent years.
FSAI also wants data on consumption and composition of some food supplements and seafood consumption for children to help with risk assessment.
In 2020, another FSAI publication looked at new and emerging food processing technologies and potential risks to food safety. It included high pressure processing (HPP), ultraviolet light, radio frequency heating, electron beam processing, cold plasma and ozone treatment.
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