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Focus on glycidol fatty acid esters and other threats: Akademie Fresenius Conference in Mainz discusses residues and contaminants in food

On 25 and 26 October, Akademie Fresenius hosted their eleventh international “Contaminants and Residues in Food” Conference in Mainz. Many representatives from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the World Health Organisation (WHO), industrial companies, such as Nestlé, Hipp and Brüggen, as well as from research institutes and the authorities had been signed up to speak at this event.

The agenda included how to deal with natural toxins, such as pyrrolizidine alkaloids in tea, tetrodotoxin in clams and contaminants and residues in baby food, including tropane alkaloids. In addition, the experts provided an update on the dangers of the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol in cereals and reported on experience gained by the industry in handling the mycotoxins T-2 and HT-2.

Frans Verstraete of the European Commission reported on current legislation in the field of plant toxins and mycotoxins. As a representative of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), Kim Petersen also reported on assessments carried out on various contaminants and process contaminants – including, for example, the risk of cancer caused by co-exposure to fumonisins and aflatoxins. Animal testing has indicated additive and synergistic effects. Currently, there is not enough data available to be able to predict the effects on humans. However, despite this lack of human data, JECFA are concerned about the possible interaction of aflatoxins with fumonisins when consumed simultaneously. This is due to the fact that the incidences of chronic liver disease and stunting are high in the areas of the world where the exposures to both mycotoxins are high.

Risks of glycidol fatty acid esters: More and better data required

Marco Binaglia of the European Food Safety Authority in Parma (EFSA) reported on the latest process contaminant assessments based on glycerine contained in palm oil, vegetable oils and margarines. EFSA had already evaluated the risks to public health caused by glycidol fatty acid esters and voiced concern with respect to the health of younger-aged consumers who consume average amounts of these foodstuffs. These substances are created during food processing, in particular when vegetable oils are refined at high temperatures (around 200°C). Last year, EFSA compared these results with the results gained from a study carried out by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives – JECFA. An update on the assessments is still going on. These two studies came to different conclusions. EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) has repeatedly recommended conducting further studies to fill the data gaps and to improve knowledge levels with respect to the toxicity of these substances and the level of food-related consumer exposure.

“Toolbox” for 3-MCPD fatty acid esters - field tests

In his presentation, Nils Hinrichsen, a food chemist at ADM Research (Hamburg), assessed the opportunities offered by a “Toolbox” for 3 MCPD fatty acid esters and glycidol fatty acid esters. This toolbox was designed by a group of representatives from the German food sector, research institutes and commercial laboratories under the coordination of the Federation of Food Law and Food Science e.V. (BLL) and contains tested “tools” for the whole food chain.  This toolbox is, therefore, to be understood as practice-related guidance to help to ensure the protection of consumer health. Hinrichsen’s conclusions ended on a positive note: “This toolbox allows the user to exploit existing knowledge and experience in research and practice in order to be able to accordingly reduce the levels of 3-MCPD fatty acid esters and glycidol fatty acid esters contained in his products.” However, the industry will have a price to pay – namely, the deterioration of its cost structures.

Residues in baby food: Monocausal views may lead to a shortage of raw materials

Georg Hartmann of HIPP-Werk Georg Hipp (Pfaffenhofen on the Ilm) has observed that consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the topic of residues and contaminants, in particular in baby food. The problem facing manufacturers: “The sources of contamination are not obvious to the producer and processor.” The availability of raw materials to the manufacturer in general is greatly limited as the use of a particular raw material is often restricted by a number of issues that crop up simultaneously, according to Hartmann. This is frequently viewed from a monocausal perspective. This may lead to there being a lack of suitable raw materials for baby food production. Hartmann argued that this would result in global raw material sourcing – “with even higher risks and a range of additional challenges”. He went on to quote the example of the problem of chlorine content in baby food through processed drinking water: Chlorate restricts iodine uptake. In certain countries, drinking water is partly heavily chlorinated. This is “absolutely essential” to maintain food safety. “Should one decide to forego chlorination due to this chlorate problem despite the microbiological risk involved, the microbiological risk especially for baby food would, in turn, increase in certain heating processes as the basic level of contamination of the raw materials is higher right from the outset.”

MOSH and MOAH omnipresent throughout the supply chain

Mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) can seep into foodstuffs from food packaging materials made of recycled paper which may, for example, contain printer’s ink. The body can easily absorb MOSH and MOAH from food which go on to accumulate in body fat and the organs, such as the spleen and the liver. Reinhard Matissek, Head of the Food Chemistry Institute (LCI) of the Association of the German Confectionary Industry in Cologne, presented the results from three years of research on MOSH and MOAH entry. He demanded from the research sector, the authorities and the industry that they always consider the food chain as a whole. He stated that MOSH and MOAH were omnipresent throughout this chain. Wheras the experts involved in mineral oil residues in food originally concentrated first and foremost on the packaged end products sitting on supermarket shelves, potential entry points during production, packaging and transport are now increasingly under review. For example, transport containers for rice and nuts and gunny sacks used to transport coffee beans. Matissek recommended not to regard MOSH and MOAH as analytes in respective minimisation strategies but rather to see them as unintentional mineral oil entries.

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