PHOENIX — If there was one thing to take away from Tuesday’s session on the food safety concerns of plant-based ‘meat,” it’s that it’s not meat and can’t be approached in exactly the same way.

The session “Novel Foods, Novel Challenges: Food Safety Concerns in Plant-based, Cell-Cultured, and ‘Clean Label’ Products” at the IAFP 2021 conference here featured presentations on how companies need to approach food safety concerns when it comes to novel foods, particularly plant-based meat substitutes.

Todd Napolitano, director and program manager of GMO Services at Mérieux NutriSciences, opened the session by saying that “while we’ve heard of many notable achievements in our march towards greater transparency, cleaner more sustainable products, and ending global hunger, there has been much less public discussion around the many challenges inherent to these new matrices.”

Plant-Based Innovation and Food Safety
David D. Rasmussen, head of Food Safety and Scientific and Regulatory Affairs (North America) at The Kraft Heinz Co., talked about the unique challenges presented by these novel plant-based, cell culture and clean label foods. Rasmussen said that novel foods need to be shown safe before they are introduced.

Things that must be considered:

  • New hazards
  • New allergens: For example, pea protein connections with peanut allergens
  • Contaminants: The toxicology of repeated consumption of new proteins
  • Biological hazards: Controls beyond supply chain?
  • Physical hazards: Highly processed =  Foreign material concerns
  • Dietary/Nutritional: Nutritional balance amongst limited offerings

It is important for novel food producers to go through a standard hierarchy of controls:

  • Eliminations
  • Substitution
  • Engineering control
  • Administrative control
  • PPE (personal protective equipment)

Lilia Santiago-Connolly, senior global director of Quality and Food Safety at the Kellogg Company, stressed that when it comes to plant-based products, she agrees that food safety is still a priority for both company and consumers.

Santiago-Connolly is able to speak with unique authority on the issue as MorningStar Farms, a division of Kellogg Company, has been leading innovation in plant-based meat substitutes for decades. She explained that it is vital that companies understand their risks from end to end, verify every step of the process during production and validate cooking instructions. 

She also said that in her experience with MorningStar Farms, plant-based protein is a unique challenge. Consumers will treat plant-based protein like meat, but, “it’s not the same, look at the ingredients.” Consumers have to be wary of the potential allergens and the differences in the nutritional aspects of plant-based meats.

“You can not look at it through the same lens,” she said. And this discrepancy needs to be remembered at the company level when working to keep plant-based foods safe.

In Jocelyn Alfier’s, laboratory director at Mérieux NutriSciences,  presentation she focused on the allergen concerns involved with novel foods.

“All novel foods that contain protein have the potential to have allergens,” she said. Because there often has not been a significant consumption of novel protein sources, allergens can still be relatively unknown and new sensitivities can emerge.

Concluding her talk, Alfier said that the monitoring of allergens for food safety is of growing importance in particular as food products change and as new allergens of concern are identified.

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