The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) plans to publish reports on cell-based food, precision fermentation, and whole genome sequencing (WGS) in 2024.

FAO and the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA) held a meeting on cell-based food production and precision fermentation in Shanghai in November 2023. A report on the event will be published next year.

Wageningen Food Safety Research (WFSR) and FAO are compiling a report on precision fermentation including definitions; an overview of the production processes and common input materials; and regulatory frameworks relevant to food safety. This synthesis is planned for release towards the end of 2024.

FAO organized a workshop on the use of WGS for food safety management in Italy in April 2023. The report of this event will be published in the first half of 2024, and follow-up activities are planned in 2024 and 2025.

The University of Putra Malaysia and FAO are developing a case study on WGS analysis of Streptococcus Agalactiae, also known as Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in food. A project is ongoing in 2023 to 2024 and publication is planned for 2025.

Foodborne GBS of sequence type (ST) 283 was behind an outbreak in Singapore, which is a neighbor country to Malaysia, in 2015. FAO said it was important for authorities to be equipped with WGS technical capacity and resources to detect and analyze samples to investigate cases and outbreaks.

Foresight and environmental inhibitors
In recent months, FAO has released a series of documents on food safety foresight, the gut microbiome, and environmental inhibitors.

The food safety foresight technical meeting on new food sources and production systems was organized in November 2023 in Italy. Experts evaluated food safety issues associated with plant-based products, new applications of precision fermentation, and 3D food printing.

Scientists said the hazards associated with topics discussed are generally similar to those linked with conventional foods. However, new production and processing technologies may introduce conditions that are unique and require closer attention from a food safety perspective. When conducting safety assessments on new food sources, the intended uses of final products should be a key consideration, they added.

Food safety implications for plant-based food products depends on how the plants are grown, harvested, stored, transported, and processed. New hazards may be introduced if products are based on plants not traditionally used for food. Consumers may also perceive plant-based items as microbiologically safer than conventional products and so may not appropriately handle, cook or store them.

Safety considerations around precision fermentation include allergenic risks of proteins that either mimic existing allergens, are altered in a way that may be allergenic, or may not previously have been identified as allergens.

For 3D printing, hygienic design principles should be used in the development process of the machine and associated consumables. Consumer education around hygienic use of the technology at home was also important.

In December, FAO hosted a meeting to determine the feasibility and readiness of microbiome data for use in risk assessment.

A better understanding of how dietary components can impact the gut microbiome and human health would help identify relevant microbiome endpoints that can be used in chemical risk assessment.

Finally, FAO has published a food safety report on environmental inhibitors.

Environmental inhibitors are used to improve the production efficiency of crops and livestock while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as methane, or limiting the loss of nitrogen from cultivated fields and pastures.

Inadvertent presence in food products can raise health concerns or lead to trade disruption. Challenges related to risk assessment and management of these substances include the lack of internationally harmonized maximum residue limits (MRLs), an agreed definition and insufficient safety information in some cases.

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