12 January - 20 June 2016

EFSA survey identifies 28 food safety priorities

In order to help develop an EU-wide agenda of prioritised activities and initiatives to strengthen risk assessment and monitoring, EFSA commissioned Gene Rowe Evaluations to conduct a three round Delphi technique survey of relevant experts across the EU.

In order to help develop an EU-wide agenda of prioritised activities and initiatives to strengthen risk assessment and monitoring, EFSA commissioned Gene Rowe Evaluations to conduct a three round Delphi technique survey of relevant experts across the EU.

Round 0 questionnaires were created asking those surveyed to provide three food safety priorities, rate these in importance and categorise the three in to one of four risk assessment domains (microbiological risk assessment, chemical risk assessment, environmental issues and nutrition). The questionnaire was sent to experts across EU member states plus Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. From the responses, 123 food safety priorities were noted across the four domains plus a fifth ‘generic’ domain (priorities that spanned two or more of the main domains).

Round 1 questionnaires were then created for each of the four main domains using the priorities suggested for that domain and all the priorities placed in the generic domain. Participants were required to rate each suggested priority on a seven-point scale across three different criteria (knowledge, public health and harmonisation) and to note two they considered of particular importance.  Each of the four questionnaires were sent to approximately a quarter of participants. Data received allowed the study authors to identify the 10 most important in each domain and create a final questionnaire. Using this, experts rated each priority across the same three criteria, as noted above, and selected one as of particular importance.

Results showed some consensus towards top-rated suggested priorities which enabled the authors to propose a list of 28 food-safety priorities to be identified for further discussions and “deserving of priority attention from EFSA in the future”. 

These are:

Chemical

  • Harmonisation of methods for risk assessment of chemical contaminants
  • Cumulative exposure assessment (e.g. for pesticide residues/ PAHs)
  • Infant and baby food 
  • Emerging contaminants

Microbiological

  • Systems for monitoring and characterising microbes isolated from food, environment and human illness cases
  • Improve the use of genetic data (e.g. from whole genome sequencing) for risk assessment of microbiological contaminants 
  • Antimicrobial/ antibiotic resistance 
  • Microbial food pathogens (in general)
  • Food-borne viruses (in general) (e.g. Hepatitis A and Norovirus in fruit and vegetables)
  • Campylobacter (e.g. in poultry and ready to eat foods)
  • Zoonoses (in general, including bio-hazards, MRSA etc.)

Environmental

  • Improving information on the occurrence and spread of harmful organisms at the level of individual EU countries 
  • Ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi) applied to food producing organisms as pesticide, veterinary medicine, or newly expressed trait in genetically modified crops 
  • Better understand biological organisms and plant substances used in crop protection (so reducing the need for chemicals e.g. pesticides)
  • The impact of chemicals on the ecosystem (release of chemicals to the environment)
  • Presence/detection of environmental contaminants (e.g. from agricultural, industrial or household sources) in food
  • Cocktail effects (the health risk assessment of chemical mixtures e.g. food additives)

Nutrition

  • Indirect effects on human health due to modified agricultural practices (e.g. via reduction of pesticide use, changed content of mycotoxins, etc.)
  • Developing standard biomarkers of intake and/or exposure to contaminants
  • Food supplements risk/benefits
  • Determination of allergen thresholds (clinical studies), in conjunction with immunochemical measurements of allergens in foods 

Generic

  • Methods and systems for identifying emerging (food) risks (e.g. new food-borne diseases)
  • Development of standard risk-benefit assessment methods
  • Common data collection/surveillance scheme (over many domains) across Europe
  • Multiple contaminant impacts on the risk profile of foods
  • Risks/benefits of botanicals/herbals in food supplements
  • Allergenicity/ food allergens in general (risk assessment and management)
  • Aggregated exposure (as per cocktail effects, but including environmental as well as food
  • exposures)

The EFSA state that “the results of this study will guide collaboration between EFSA and EU Member States and contribute to the development of a common risk assessment agenda.”

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