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Our food is changing: Immigration, globalization, cosmopolitan eating habits and increased international travel are bringing traditional ethnic foods and new fusion dishes into Europe. Soon, novel foods and alternate food sources from food processing waste streams, insects and microalgae might become available; alternative food chains and business models are already appearing; smartphones will give consumers the capacity to interact in the food chain in ways that we can only guess at; new bio-preservatives and smart packaging may prolong shelf life; and thorough characterization, sustainability and safety assessments will have to be carried out. Food recalls and foodborne outbreaks caused by contamination with toxins, undeclared allergens, hazardous chemicals and/or pathogenic agents are rising. In 2013 the World Health Organisation reported 322 deaths in the EU/EEA from foodborne bacterial disease alone and in 2015 WHO noted that all foodborne diseases are a significant public health problem, even in the most developed countries. To protect the European consumer, who assumes that any food found anywhere in Europe is safe to eat, the safety of foods of the future and of emerging bio-based food technologies needs immediate and constant attention. A foodomics approach for characterisation of nutritional, chemical and microbiological properties of future foods is needed, as are control and prevention strategies to assess and face microbiological and chemical risks associated with the consumption of these foods. Quick methods must be developed and validated, perhaps based on artificial intelligence for data analysis. Advanced omics technologies in medicine and other biosciences will be used to improve consumer well-being, health and knowledge, and growing recognition of the role of foods in human health and disease prevention requires the same attention for food safety. Thus, the European Association for Food Safety, SAFE consortium proposes the following four topics for consideration as priorities for food safety research funding:



Understanding microbial activities is critical to achieve food safety and quality. The problems posed by chemical residues and additives are also far from being solved. Differentiating toxic, harmless and beneficial applies to both chemicals and microbes. Investigation of the cooccurrence and combined effects of contaminants (e.g., fungi, mycotoxins and bacteria), biotoxins and residues (e.g., pesticides, veterinary drugs) is critical as a “cocktail of contaminants” is the under-explored yet real world situation. Testing under real conditions is crucially important. Knowledge about microbiota in food production lines is limited to a few studies and only very few of thousands of mixture combinations have been investigated so far. The complexity of actual food samples, their storage and preparation, and even the human digestive process must all be considered. Thus, understanding and controlling microbial communities and chemical toxicants means focusing not only on the substances themselves, but on metabolites, mixtures, synergies and inhibitions, influence of food matrices, preparation and storage, bio-availability and bioaccessibility.

■■ Production, processing, packaging and post-processes (e.g., storage) affect microbes in many ways, including their virulence potential, and these complex interrelationships affect contamination and the common problems of cross- and re-contamination. Omics technologies, along with knowledge of microbial physiology, metabolism and dynamics will aid in studies of complex, multivariate systems representing real-life conditions along the food chain. Importantly, new technologies may fail in food production environments, despite proved efficacy against laboratory strains in laboratory tests. ■■ Less common sero- and pathotypes, such as enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) and those emerging pathogens which become more prevalent in food/feed due to changes in climate, urbanisation, globalisation, etc., are increasingly responsible for disease and outbreaks. These include bacteria and bacterial toxins and also mycotoxins and foodborne viruses. Still, most microbiological studies include only a few strains and are often performed in laboratory media and not in food systems. New diagnostic and analytical systems need development, validation and harmonisation, including the development of reference materials and performance criteria, to ensure early detection and reliable quantification. ■■ Chemical toxicants must be considered, including new perspectives such as safety of pesticide residues on foods eaten raw or minimally processed, effects of chemicals on beneficial microbiota in the human gut, microplastics in seafood given increased seafood consumption, etc. Long-lasting issues such as antibiotic residues and anti-microbial resistance require development of alternative methods and approaches. Amendments to current guidelines for risk assessment of pesticides and herbicides require a global perspective, including practice in application and information transfer from producers to users. ■■ New methods utilising completely novel approaches are worthy of further investigation in order to expand the palette of interventions for the control of both chemical and microbial hazards, including emerging methods in preservation and sanitation. These include uses of (cold) plasma, agricultural by-products as potential biocides, anti-quorum sensing agents, high-throughput sequencing / metagenomics related to the health status of plants, bacteriophage-based strategies for detection of bacterial pathogens, et al.



A systemic, holistic approach to food production can unlock the full potential of the food chain, even resulting in a zero waste situation as waste itself gets re-defined as useable byproducts. Food chain by-products can be converted into high added-value products and ingredients thus introducing novel sources of food and feed. This will present new food safety scenarios and require adequate nutritional analyses. Importantly, acceptance of by-products and foods of the future will require a strong focus on safety as even a single incident will likely result in a perhaps irrevocable loss of consumer confidence.

■■ New ingredients, foods and food sources from e.g., traditional foods in other countries, insects, fungi, microalgae and waste streams must be fully characterised (biochemical, nutritional, nutraceutical, microbial and toxicological) and, in order to increase consumer confidence, potential risks must be exhaustively evaluated. Microbiome studies (including metagenomics) can provide information on natives living on or inside biomasses intended as new foods, as well as on microorganisms which develop during transformation processes. Appropriate processing technologies will be required for some substances e.g., extraction of bioactive compounds from marine biomasses (e.g. jellyfish, micro- or macroalgae) while ensuring avoidance of potentially bio-accumulated chemical contaminants. ■■ Evaluation of potential long term health consequences of a diet more and more dependent on processed foods which travel long distances should be started now. Also, new sources of potential allergens (insects, bacteria, food additives, drugs and their metabolites) and the impact of emerging technologies on allergenicity of the most common allergens should be considered. ■■ Vulnerability analysis of reduced biodiversity in the food production chain due to the large scale production of all process steps needs immediate attention. On the other hand, increasing diversity by assuring safety of region-specific, traditional crops and foods is especially important to European citizens. Also promoting the re-introduction of “old” traditional foods, bringing back grains/pulses of species that are no longer cultivated and animal breeds no longer used, can lead to healthier consumption patterns, increased biodiversity and alternative sustainable food chains. ■■ Evaluation of the safety of new enzymes for the bio-based processing of food material is required, particularly concerning the allergenicity and the safety evaluation of the “novel sources” of enzymes. Here, new and less expensive extraction and purification technologies must be investigated.



Sustainable and innovative bio-based food production and processing can optimize the use of resources and limit environmental degradation. New processes must be both developed and commercialised to provide added value in food products and increase competitiveness; this requires consumer acceptance and accessibility to SMEs who are the majority of European food producers. Harmful compounds are known to be formed during some traditional processing and likely during novel methods as well. The safety impact of a growing societal dependency on processed foods (ready-to -(h)eat) in terms of public health should be considered and particular attention to green and minimally processed foods is warranted as these are recognised to have health and environmental benefits. Food analysis is constantly evolving and it is important that new capabilities are harnessed in an efficient and focussed manner, to raise the level of consumer protection and, where possible, reduce the costs that all analysis represents.

■■ Optimisation of safe soil, including attention to root microflora and their role in plant health and stress responses to decrease dependence on synthetic chemicals. The use of agricultural by-products as soil enhancers and to make animal feed will require food safety controls at each step in the process. Production of pathogen-resistant, allergen-free and nutritionally-safe food can benefit from innovative production technologies about which there is little information on food safety consequences, e.g., genome editing approaches. ■■ Innovative processing technologies, including mild methods and “intelligent packaging” to increase sanitization and shelf life, can reduce chain contamination and prevent carryover of contaminants. Novel preservation procedures, such as bio-preservatives and bioactive food packaging, need comprehensive profile studies on microbial, physical, chemical, biochemical, nutritional and sensorial characteristics. An integrated approach can unravel mechanisms of action for exploitation of “natural” food conservation systems. New food trends, e.g., gluten-free, and increased consumption of some foods, e.g., marine products will require new methods to estimate toxicity and potential allergenicity. ■■ Innovative testing will use new analytical/biological methods for assessing both toxicity and availability of bioactive compounds in food and herbals/nutraceuticals. This will require development of alternative methods to animal testing for comparative studies on toxicokinetics of contaminants and absorption, distribution, metabolism & excretion (ADME) of nutrients. Quick methods for early identification/quantification of food contaminants such as “smelling” contaminants via Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) detection or use of beneficial microorganisms (BMs) and their derived metabolites are required. ■■ The development of antibody-based detection of components of interest in food quality and safety, such as species markers, hidden allergens, protein adducts generated by technological processes, bacterial toxins, mycotoxins et al. A quick and thorough comprehensive sample profile can include compliance of a food product with its PDO registration or appropriateness of labelling or occurrence of contaminants potentially hazardous to health. Moreover, such antibody-based panels can be customised according to the particular demands of food industry or food control authorities. ■■ The many quick, automated and untargeted analytical methods required for fast and reliable food safety assessment will demand new tools for post-analysis treatment of the “big data” generated. Artificial intelligence-based approaches must be developed, including validation of standardised and harmonised shared data sets for reference of existing products



The safety and sustainability aspects of foods and food ingredients are more and more important to consumers. The food industry recognises this and has responded with more everyday products claiming to be “all natural” or “sustainably produced” or “bioactive” et al. Legislators have continual challenges as new and often unanticipated food trends, such as gluten-free and ready-to-(h)eat, arise and gain unprecedented popularity. Consequently, appropriate tools for information gathering and sharing are crucial for ensuring transparency along the entire food supply chain, reaching the consumer in an easy-to-understand manner.

■■ Development of education concerning the presence of allergens in foods and their associated health problems, with particular attention to novel foods and the possible appearance of new allergens. ■■ Methods to estimate and control toxicity relative to new food trends will be needed. The increased consumption of marine products for example demands reliable risk assessment that considers high natural concentrations of total arsenic in seafood. Gluten-free regulations state “food may only contain an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing source if that ingredient has been processed in a manner to remove gluten residues to a level of less than 20 ppm“, and new technologies must be able to confirm this. ■■ New analytical methods to assure the geographical origin of food products is a major concern for European consumers and a topic that must be addressed in order to maintain and grow consumer trust. ■■ Authenticity issues, the ever increasing risk of food fraud and related food safety aspects, requires set-up, harmonization and validation of analytical approaches for authenticity determination. Particular attention should be paid to non-traditional or novel foods, which lack standardized protocols, and to highly processed infant foods in terms of content, nutritional value and health consequences.


Pathogenic agents (bacteria, fungi and viruses) and their toxins, and chemical toxicants (both from processing and from environmental sources) continue to be a major European public health concern. The re-introduction of discarded fractions into the food chain, the search for new protein sources, and the introduction of new species in the diet are examples of changes bringing new challenges to food safety specialists. Europe’s progress towards a bio-based circular economy and novel sustainable technologies which limit environmental degradation pose unique risks, and consumer confidence in the ever-changing food sector will require scientific action, appropriate communication and holistic legislation. Rapid, sensitive and validated methods to detect pathogens and chemicals in food matrices are needed. The pathobiome concept, i.e. “the pathogenic agent integrated within its biotic environment” is a new and holistic way of looking at the complexities of contaminants all along the complex food chain. The use of omics technologies is increasing worldwide and now, the foodomics approach is here and it requires refinement, standardization and validated protocols. We need a food and agriculture system that has safe, healthy nutrition of the citizen and sustainability of resources as its major aims, remembering that food cannot be healthy and nutritious if it is not safe. Producing safe food for the future is a continual challenge in a constantly changing environment with ever increasing complexity of the European food basket. In the periods between newsworthy food safety outbreaks, the general sense of public awareness of the safety of food, and even perhaps official vigilance, may start to fade. This is a tremendous risk and one that we aim to avoid. Keeping food safety relevant requires awareness – we must keep food safety and food safety research high on the European agenda.

The European Association for Food Safety This position paper was written by the following members of the European Association for Food Safety, SAFE consortium: Ryszard Amarowicz, PAS, Poland Marco Arlorio, UPO-DFB, Italy Giuseppina Avantaggiato, CNR-ISPA, Italy Carlos Bald, AZTI, Spain Raffaella M. Balestrini, CNR-IPSP, Italy Alejandro Barranco, AZTI, Spain Giovanna Battelli, CNR-ISPA, Italy Nastasia Belc, IBA, Romania Kofitsyo Cudjoe, NVI, Norway Katherine Flynn, SAFE consortium, Belgium Vincenzina Fusco, CNR-ISPA, Italy Helga Gunnlaugsdóttir, Matis, Iceland Tim Hogg, ESB-UCP, Portugal Amaia Lasagabaster, AZTI, Spain María Lavilla, AZTI, Spain Antonella Leone, CNR-ISPA, Italy Helga Næs, Nofima, Norway Filomena Nazzaro, CNR-ISA, Italy Emanuela Noris, CNR-IPSP, Italy Begoña Pérez-Villarreal, AZTI, Spain Sandra Rainieri, AZTI, Spain Mauro Rossi, CNR-IFS, Italy Michelina Ruocco, CNR-IPSP, Italy Irina Smeu, IBA, Romania Barbara Wróblewska, PAS, Poland

SAFE CONSORTIUM: KEEPING FOOD SAFETY ON THE AGENDA Please direct your questions to: (general information) (scientific information) ©April 2016 The SAFE Consortium Rue Vanderborght 20, 1081 Brussels Belgium Photographs:,

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Safe Food for the Future  

A view of food safety research priorities co-authored by 25 eminent scientists remembering that food cannot be healthy and nutritiuos if it'...

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