12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

  • EFSA report treatments ‘do not eliminate Xylella from olive trees but can reduce disease symptoms’
  • FSA suspend campylobacter retail survey
  • Link between pharmaceutical contaminants and consumption of produce grown in reclaimed wastewater-irrigated soil
  • Cardiovascular safety of calcium and vitamin D supplementation
  • Can eating contaminated fish reduce the effectiveness of the human defence system?
  • Data from new studies needed to confirm safety of sulphites – EFSA
  • Dried oregano sold in Australia found to be adulterated
  • Study finds link between fast food consumption and urinary concentrations of phthalates
  • Detecting E.coli strain O157:H7 and Salmonella typhimurium using a paper-based test
  • Reducing food waste could help mitigate climate change
  • FSA science report focuses on whole-genome sequencing ensuring food is safe and authentic
  • Using fungi may decrease need for chemical fertilisers

EFSA report treatments ‘do not eliminate Xylella from olive trees but can reduce disease symptoms’
Treatments being tested on olive trees in Apulia reduce the symptoms of disease caused by Xylella fastidiosa but do not eliminate the pathogen from infected plants.  This is the main conclusion of an assessment carried out by EFSA into the effectiveness of treatments for X. fastidiosa in olive trees. The findings confirm experience from other parts of the world, where X. fastidiosa is also causing enormous damage and no treatment has been found to eliminate the pathogen from plants grown outdoors. EFSA plant experts drew these conclusions after they evaluated research being carried out in Apulia scientists from the University of Foggia, and  Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e l’analisi dell’economia agraria (CREA) in Caserta and examined treatments used elsewhere to control bacterial infections in plants including olive, citrus, apple, pear and grapevine.

FSA suspend campylobacter retail survey
The FSA has conducted a year-long survey to measure the amount of campylobacter on chickens bought from shops and supermarkets. Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the FSA said: 'Tackling campylobacter remains our number one priority. The ultimate test to show whether our campaign is working is to see whether fewer people get ill. That’s why we want to see 100,000 fewer cases of campylobacter each year from the end of March 2017. So there’s no let up for industry: we want to see continuing efforts to reduce this bug on our chickens.' The way the FSA has conducted the testing for campylobacter levels has been to measure the amount of the bug on the neck skin of the chicken – this is because this is generally the most contaminated part of the bird. However the FSA note that a growing number of processors are removing the neck skin before the birds are put on the supermarket shelves. This is good news for the consumer because it reduces the amount of campylobacter on the bird, but cause a problem with the FSA’s analyses.  Given that chicken samples now contain varying amounts of neck skin, it makes it difficult for the FSA to compare fairly one retailer with another and to give accurate comparisons with previous quarterly results.  The FSA has therefore decided to suspend the survey for the time being while they look again at what sort of testing they might do to provide clear information on the progress being made by retailers to tackle campylobacter.  They are considering a number of options for amending their testing protocol so as to give a more consistent indication of the levels of the bug. They hope to be able to restart sampling in the summer.  Additionally, in the longer-term, they will be asking industry to conduct their own testing and to publish their results to an agreed set of standards prescribed and maintained by them. The FSA will publish the results of the third quarter of this survey on May 26 2016. As with previous quarters, publication of the data follows Office of National Statistics rules.  However, because of the issues outlined above, they will simply be giving an overall figure for the amount of campylobacter on chicken and will not this time be breaking the figures down by retailer. Since sampling has been suspended, the final quarter set of results within this survey will not be published.

Link between pharmaceutical contaminants and consumption of produce grown in reclaimed wastewater-irrigated soil
Researchers have found that healthy individuals who consumed reclaimed wastewater-irrigated produce excreted minute amounts of carbamazepine in their urine.  The study published in Environmental Science & Technology by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical Center report that Israel often uses reclaimed wastewater, so used this platform to conduct their research.  Two groups of 17 men and women consumed either produce treated with reclaimed wastewater for a week, followed by freshwater-irrigated vegetables for a week or vice versa.  Levels of carbamazepine were measured in both the produce and participant’s urine.  Initially levels varied with some participants having undetectable levels, however at the end of the seven day period, all participants had quantifiable levels of carbamazepine.  Levels were found to be higher in the first group compared to the second. An author of the study, Prof Paltiel states: "It is evident that those who consume produce grown in soil irrigated with treated wastewater increase their exposure to the drug. Though the levels detected were much lower than in patients who consume the drug, it is important to assess the exposure in commercially available produce.”

Cardiovascular safety of calcium and vitamin D supplementation
UK scientists are reporting on the cardiovascular safety of calcium and vitamin D supplementation.  Using data from the UK Biobank, which included 34,890 participants who reported taking calcium supplements and 20,004 taking vitamin D supplements, the scientists found, after analysis, no association between supplementation and hospital admission related to ischaemic heart disease, any cardiovascular event or death after admission. Calcium supplementation was found not to increase risk of future cardiac events, regardless of whether a participant had a history of cardiovascular disease or not at baseline.  (Science Daily)

RSSL provides vitamin analysis in a wide range of matrices including drinks, fortified foods, pre-mixes and multi-vitamin tablets, including the analysis for Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3.  For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com 

Can eating contaminated fish reduce the effectiveness of the human defence system?
A study led by researchers from The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and published in Science Advances is reporting that environmental pollutants found in fish can obstruct the human body's natural defence system for expelling harmful toxins. The team indicate that their findings can be used to further assess the human health risk from eating contaminated seafood.   P-gp, a protein found in plants and animals, can limit the entry of foreign chemicals to the body and speed up their clearance, as well as transport drugs.  The team investigated how effective P-gp was at clearing industrial and agricultural pollutants (POP - persistent organic pollutants) found in seafood, using biochemical and cellular analysis of P-gp proteins from mice and human. The study showed how one of 10 pollutants, PBDE-100, commonly used as a flame retardant in upholstery foam and plastics, binds to the transporter protein. Instead of being transported from the cells, which is what happens to drugs including chemotherapeutics, the POP inhibited the proteins defence function.  Hamdoun et al. report that newborns are particularly vulnerable as they are exposed to high concentration of POPs via breast milk and have low levels of P-gp.  The lead author of the study states: “When we eat contaminated fish, we could be reducing the effectiveness of this critical defence system in our bodies.”

Data from new studies needed to confirm safety of sulphites – EFSA
EFSA state that although the current combined safe level for sevens sulphites (sulphur dioxide and six sulphites) used as additives in wine and other foods is sufficient to protect consumers, data from new studies needs to be provided to confirm their safety.  The seven food additives all behave similarly following digestion, although data on what happens in the body is limited and they may trigger intolerance reactions.  Whilst they occur naturally in wine-making, they are also added to stop fermentation and act as preservatives.  They are also used in cider, fruit and vegetables juices and in dried fruit and vegetables.  EU law requires food labels to indicate “contains sulphites” (when exceeding 10 milligrams per kilogram or per litre) without specifying the amount.

RSSL can determine sulphites and sulphur dioxide levels in a wide range of food and beverages. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com 

Dried oregano sold in Australia found to be adulterated
CHOICE, the Australian equivalent of Which? has tested 12 different brands of dried oregano brought from Australian supermarkets, grocers and delis and found that seven included other ingredients such as olive and sumac leaves, which made up between 50 and 90% of adulterated samples. The study investigated whether Australian consumers were affected by the same issue as reported in the UK last year.  According to a study by Which? last year 25% of dried oregano samples in the UK were found to be adulterated.  The team note that only one sample of a single batch from each brand was tested so may not be representative of each of these individual brands.  CHOICE are recommending that ACCC investigate the issue and take appropriate action.  The companies who were affected were asked for comments and suggest the adulteration may be coming from further down the supply chain. Some are making further tests and will hold and not re-supply products until they are assured of the integrity of the oregano.  (CHOICE)

RSSL can verify the authenticity of dried oregano, using microscopy and GC-MS. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com 

Study finds link between fast food consumption and urinary concentrations of phthalates
A US survey is reporting that high consumption of fast food is linked to higher levels of phthalates.  Phthalates are chemicals used to make food packaging materials.  The research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that phthalates can leach out of plastic food packaging and contaminate highly processed food.  The survey involving 8877 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2010) by Zota et al. asked questions about the participants’ diet for the past 24 hours.  Urine samples were provided and tested for phthalate metabolites, DEHP and DiNP.  The participants with the highest consumption of fast food over the 24 hr period before testing had 23.4% higher urinary concentration of DEH, and 40% higher levels of DiNP compared to non-consumers.    The association between DiNP and fast food was seen in adolescents and adults, but not in children aged 6-11 years.  Grain and meat were found to be the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure.  The scientists also investigated levels of BPA and fast food consumption and report that no association was found. In conclusion the study notes “our results may represent an important step forward in individual and regulatory phthalate exposure reduction strategies while population health effects remain under study.”

Detecting E.coli strain O157:H7 and Salmonella typhimurium using a paper-based test
A paper-based test has been developed which could, when dipped into solution, detect the E. coli strain O157:H7, Salmonella typhimurium or both.  The test reported in ACS’ journal Analytical Chemistry can indicate a positive result, by means of a line appearing on the dipstick, within 15 minutes.  The scientists state the paper-based test uses multistep reactions necessary for this kind of analysis by controlling the pore size of the paper. Due to ease of use, it is noted that no special training would be needed and it could be used to detect pathogens before food reaches shelves, restaurant and stomachs. 

Reducing food waste could help mitigate climate change
Research published in Environmental Science and Technology by Hic et al. has reported that around 10% of global greenhouse-gas emission from agriculture could be traced back to food waste by mid-century.  From analysing body types and food requirements for different scenarios, the team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that while average food demand per person is almost consistent, food availability has increased over the last five decades.  Hic et al. note that as a consequence, greenhouse-gas emissions, associated with food waste, could increase tremendously from today’s 0.5 to 1.9-2.5 Gigatons of CO2 equivalents per year by 2050.  They note that in 2010, agriculture, a main driver of climate change, was associated with 20% of overall global green-house gas emission and state that avoiding unnecessary food losses (currently standing at 1.3 billion per year) and waste could prevent unnecessary greenhouse-gas emissions and subsequently help with climate change.

FSA science report focuses on whole-genome sequencing ensuring food is safe and authentic
The FSA has published the new Science Report by its Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Guy Poppy. In this third issue of the Science Report, Professor Poppy discusses whole-genome sequencing, the science of mapping the genetic make-up of micro-organisms, and how this new technology can help the FSA’s work to ensure food is safe and authentic.  The report examines how the increasing speed and decreasing costs of whole-genome sequencing has transformed scientists’ ability to investigate foodborne disease outbreaks, providing faster identification and control of outbreaks. The report also looks at how whole-genome sequencing is being used in other countries for tracking certain pathogens like listeria and examines its potential for checking the authenticity of food.

Using fungi may decrease need for chemical fertilisers
Scientists from South Dakota State University have indicated that fungi have the potential to increase the biomass production of bioenergy crops and the harvest of food crops and do so in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way so reducing the need for chemical fertilisers.   The scientists report their research in a number of papers, which are published in the Agronomy, New Phytologist and Mycorrhiza.  The scientists investigated the interactions between plants and beneficial microorganisms that improve the nutrient uptake and stress resistance of crops. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are reported to colonise plant root systems.  The plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates and 4 to 20% of its photosynthetically fixed carbon.  In exchange the fungi provides plants with nitrogen and phosphorus.   The scientists studied the interaction using bioenergy crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans, alfalfa, clover and perennial grasses.  Studying the relationship between alfalfa and 31 different isolates of 10 arbuscular mycoscular fungal species, they report that some fungi are more beneficial than others.  High performance isolates increased the biomass and nutrient uptake by 170% in alfalfa, while low performance isolates were found to have no effect on growth. However, the team notes isolates are crop specific and therefore won’t benefit all crops.  

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