Microplastics in food is the primary concern for people in Germany followed by antibiotic resistance, according to a survey. Pesticides in food were also a very high concern for 57 percent of people surveyed.

The consumer monitor survey of 1,002 people in February 2023 asked how the public perceived health protection topics. It is conducted every six months and published by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

Microplastics top the list of issues with 66 percent being very concerned and 20 percent moderately concerned. Second is antibiotic resistance with 58 percent very concerned and 20 percent moderately concerned; third is pesticide residues in food with 57 percent very concerned and 19 percent moderately concerned.

Current scientific knowledge suggests that health risks for humans from plastic particles in food are unlikely.

“The consumer monitor confirms the results of our surveys and interviews on microplastics. The population is facing large knowledge gaps — risk communication can help to reduce that uncertainty,” said Dr. Robin Janzik from the BfR’s risk communication department.

Pathogen and hygiene findings
The past two years have seen an increasing trend in the concern about microplastics in food, antibiotic resistance, pesticide residues, and glyphosate.

Half of the respondents had heard of Listeria in food. Still, only a quarter were familiar with Campylobacter, despite it being the most frequently reported bacterial foodborne illness in Germany in recent years.

About 1 in 5 were concerned or very concerned about Listeria in food. This figure was 13 percent for food hygiene at home and 11 percent for Campylobacter. Almost 70 percent of people were not concerned about domestic food hygiene.

Nearly two-thirds felt well informed or very well informed about food hygiene at home. This figure dropped to 27 percent for food hygiene in gastronomy. Only 13 percent were well informed or very well informed about Listeria and 6 percent about Campylobacter.

Almost half of the participants rated food sold in Germany as safe or very safe, which is down slightly on results from the previous survey. Answers were split on whether people thought the safety of food products tended to increase or remain the same.

Work with agencies from Chile, Tunisia, and Uruguay
The BfR has also highlighted work with other food agencies in recent months.

Earlier this month, Dr. Andreas Hensel, president of BfR, went to Tunisia for an update on how a project is progressing. July will mark the halfway point of the project, which ends in 2025. Past workshops have covered risk analysis and simulating a crisis.

BfR and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) are part of efforts to strengthen food safety in Tunisia after a new food safety law came into force in 2019. Work includes staff training, policy and organizational advice, and train-the-trainer programs.  

In March, the Chilean Minister of Agriculture, Esteban Valenzuela Van Treek, and Dr. Hensel signed a renewed agreement.

BfR and the Chilean Agency for Food Safety and Quality (ACHIPIA) have done an assessment of dietary exposure to sweeteners; arsenic and cadmium in seafood and assessing dietary exposure to arsenic in rice and baby food. Since the first deal was agreed upon in 2018, there have been several risk assessments in Chile and the organization of conferences relevant to the Latin American and Caribbean regions.

Also in March, experts from the BfR, the Uruguayan Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries (MGAP), and other institutions took part in training on food contamination.

It was attended by 40 experts with different backgrounds, such as veterinary medicine, food, and agricultural technology, and chemistry. Participants gained knowledge about polychlorinated dioxins and furans as well as dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other contaminants. Further sessions covered effective risk communication and the transfer of substances along the food chain.

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