12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

  • Antibacterial extracts from shallots could help fight against antibiotic resistance in cases of tuberculosis
  • EFSA and ECDC carry out rapid outbreak assessment on outbreak of S.Agona linked to infant formula
  • EFSA reassess revised safe intake for 3-MCPD in vegetable oils and food
  • Public consultation on draft guidance for the risk assessment of nanoscience and nanotechnology in the food and feed chain - EFSA
  • Recurrent salmonella food poisoning infection may cause inflammatory bowel disease
  • Raw meat diet for pets may put owners at risk
  • Herb and spice fraud – increasing need for detection
  • Waitrose, Asda and Aldi to ban energy drink sales to under-16s
  • EFSA confirms health concerns for hydroxyanthracene derivatives in food

Antibacterial extracts from shallots could help fight against antibiotic resistance in cases of tuberculosis
Bhakta et al have found that extracts from the Persian shallot could increase the effectiveness of existing antibiotic treatments.  The team of scientists from Birkbeck, UCL, the University of Greenwich, the University of East London and Royal Free Hospital, reporting in Scientific Reports, investigated extracts of the Persian shallot for its antibacterial effects.  They discover four different synthesised compounds, which significantly reduce the presence of the bacteria in the multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Dr. Bhakta, of Birkbeck's Department of Biological Sciences, states: "Despite a concerted global effort to prevent the spread of tuberculosis, approximately 10 million new cases and two million deaths were reported in 2016. As many as 50 million people worldwide are currently infected with multi-drug resistant TB, which means it's vital to develop new antibacterials. In searching for new antibacterials, we tend to focus on molecules that are potent enough to be developed commercially as new drug entities by themselves. However, in this study we show that by inhibiting the key intrinsic resistance properties of the TB, one could increase the effects of existing antibiotic treatment and reverse the tide of already existing drug resistance."

EFSA and ECDC carry out rapid outbreak assessment on outbreak of S.Agona linked to infant formula
EFSA and ECDC have carried out a rapid outbreak assessment on the outbreak of S. Agona linked to the consumption of infant formula.  They conclude that “the withdrawal and/or recall of infant formula produced by a single French processing company will significantly reduce the risk of more infants being infected by Salmonella Agona.”  The outbreak has affected 39 infants (children <1 year of age): 37 in France, one in Spain confirmed by whole genome sequencing (WGS) and one in Greece, considered to be associated with this event based on the presence of a rare biochemical characteristic of the isolate.

Public consultation on draft guidance for the risk assessment of nanoscience and nanotechnology in the food and feed chain - EFSA
EFSA has opened a public consultation on its draft guidance for the risk assessment of nanoscience and nanotechnology applications in the food and feed chain. The guidance covers the relevant areas within EFSA’s remit, such as novel foods, food contact materials, food and feed additives, and pesticides.  It considers scientific developments that have taken place since the publication of the previous guidance published in 2011, particularly studies that offer new insights into exposure assessment and hazard characterisation of nanomaterials. It also considers nano-specific considerations relating to in vivo/ in vitro toxicological studies and outlines a tiered framework for toxicological testing and proposes ways to carry out risk characterisation and uncertainty analysis.

EFSA reassess revised safe intake for 3-MCPD in vegetable oils and food
EFSA have reassessed the possible long-term adverse effects of the food processing contaminant 3-MCPD on the kidney and male fertility. They note that “consumption levels of 3-MCPD in food are considered safe for most consumers but there is a potential health concern among high consumers in younger age groups. In the worst case scenario, infants receiving formula only may slightly exceed the safe level.” 

Late folic acid supplementation may affect childhood allergy risk
A study by researchers from the University of Adelaide, published in the American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, indicates that taking folic acid late in pregnancy may increase the risk of allergies in children who have suffered from a particular type of growth restriction within the womb. Folic acid has long been known to help prevent foetal neural tube defects when taken before conception and in the first trimester of pregnancy but this research suggests that, in particular circumstances, carrying on taking folic acid may affect the risk of allergies in offspring. Previous studies have shown that a pregnancy complication which often results in low birth weights, intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), can have a protective effect against the risk of developing allergies in childhood. In the current study, Gatford et el. measured the skin reactions of sheep, born from normal or IUGR pregnancies, to dust mites and egg whites – two common allergens. The researchers found that while the IUGR sheep were normally less likely to suffer allergies compare to the normal sheep, when given folic acid supplements late in pregnancy, the IUGR sheep had a similar rate of allergy to the normal pregnancy sheep. Dr Kathy Gatford is quoted as saying that “Our findings suggest that folic acid supplementation partially reduced the protection that has previously been seen in pregnancies with restricted growth”. Gatford added that “While the results help us to better understand the potential allergy risk in humans, more research is needed before any recommendations about the right timing of supplementation should or could be made in humans. We are now in the process of analysing how a growth-restricted pregnancy and the dietary supplement affect the nutrient status of offspring at birth, and how this might switch on or off genes that regulate the immune system”. (Medical Express

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Recurrent salmonella food poisoning infection may cause inflammatory bowel disease
A mouse study has found that recurrent Salmonella food poisoning infections may cause inflammatory bowel disease by disabling protection against intestinal inflammation.  Reporting in the journal Science, Marth et al. investigate the origin of chronic inflammatory diseases spanning colitis and IBD. The team uses mice to mimic a model of human food poisoning.  The mice were administered a very low dose of Salmonella Typhimurium, a leading cause of human foodborne illness, leading to temporary intestinal discomfort and dysfunction.  The authors state “We observed the onset of a progressive and irreversible inflammatory disease caused by previous infections. That was quite surprising because the pathogen had been easily cleared by the host.” After the fourth infection, the team found that colitis was now present in all mice, and the disease did not improve, indicating damage was already present.  Marth et al. report the recurrent infection had led to a deficiency of intestinal alkaline phosphatase and an increase in neuraminidase activity.  Intestinal alkaline phosphatase’s role is to remove phosphates from molecules into a nontoxic state. However the team note that IAP levels can be increased by adding the enzyme to drinking water and neuraminidase inhibited by taking an antiviral neuraminidase inhibitor. 

Raw meat diet for pets may put owners at risk
Pet owners who provide a raw meat diet for their pets are being put at risk of serious disease such as E.coli according to a study published in the journal Vet Record, a British Medical Journal Publication.  The study analysed 35 raw meat based diets (RMBD) products from eight separate brands, and discovered that 86% of samples contained E.coli and 20% contained Salmonella.  Barbara Hinney also found that 15 samples contained Listeria.  She found evidence that the raw meat was carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria, stating “The presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in RMBDs could therefore pose a serious risk to both animal health and public health - not only because infections with these bacteria are difficult to treat, but also because of the potential of it contributing to a more widespread occurrence of such bacteria.” The author also notes that there is no scientific evidence that RMBD’s poses health benefits and note that pathogens contained within the products could be transferred to “through direct contact with the food; through contact with a contaminated pet, such as sharing the same bed and allowing licking of the face and hands; through contact with household surfaces; or by ingesting cross-contaminated human food” risking the health of animals as well as owners. 

Herb and spice fraud – increasing need for detection
Researchers from the Northern Ireland’s Institute for Global Food Security, writing in the journal Food Control, have noted that there is an increasing need to detect herb and spice adulteration due to rise in prices and future demand outstripping supply. The team which includes Professor Chris Elliott states that saffron, oregano, vanilla, turmeric and paprika are particular targets for adulteration.  They note that colours are added to these spices to improve their value.  As supply chains tends to be long and complex, and span multiple countries, this provides a number of opportunities for criminals to carry out “motivated adulteration.” They state “The stages of the supply chain can include grower, collector, primary processor, local traders, secondary processor, exporter, importer, trader, processor/packager, food manufacturer/retailer/wholesaler, and finally the consumer. At any stage of this supply chain, a number of fraud opportunities can occur including misrepresentation, adulteration and substitution.”  They discuss different techniques used to detect adulteration, however they note that criminals are often one step ahead of food safety agencies, and analysis can be costly and time consuming.  They urge the need for the development of even more efficient screening techniques. 

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Waitrose, Asda and Aldi to ban energy drink sales to under-16s
Asda and Aldi have joined Waitrose in announcing their intention to ban the sale of energy drinks to those under 16 years amid concerns over the effects on health of such drinks. Waitrose have indicated that after their ban comes in to force on 5 March, those wanting to buy such drinks may have to show ID. Asda is intending to apply the rule on 84 drinks, also from 5 March, while Aldi have indicated that from 1 March they intend to apply the rule to drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre. Aldi’s director of corporate responsibility, Oliver King is quoted by the BBC as saying that "We are introducing this age restriction in response to growing concern about the consumption of energy drinks among young people", while chief customer officer at Asda, Andrew Murray is quoted as saying that they were working hard to "ensure we get the balance right between offering choice and doing the right thing".  The UK’s largest teaching union, NASUWT, has been calling for an energy drink ban in schools and have said they were pleased with the decisions by the supermarkets. General Secretary Chris Keates has responded by saying "We hope this will continue the momentum for our campaign to see concerted action to regulate sales”. He continues "There is a chronic lack of awareness about the effects and long-term health impacts of these drinks which many pupils and parents think are just another soft drink." Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association indicated to the Daily Mail that energy drinks are not marketed to children and do come with an advisory note stating: Not recommended to children. (BBC, Daily Mail)

EFSA confirms health concerns for hydroxyanthracene derivatives in food
Some substances belonging to a group of plant ingredients known as hydroxyanthracene derivatives can damage DNA and may cause cancer, said EFSA after assessing their safety when added to food. This group of substances naturally occurs in plants such as aloe or senna species. Extracts containing them are used in food supplements for their laxative effect. Based on the available data, EFSA concluded that certain hydroxyanthracene derivatives are genotoxic (they can damage DNA). Therefore it was not possible to set a safe daily intake. When tested in animal studies, some of these substances have been shown to cause cancer in the intestine. (quoted directly – EFSA)

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