Assessment of substance risks in foods

Foods are complex mixtures of nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals) and many natural accompanying substances. In addition, they can also contain low amounts of other substances which reach the foods unintentionally as contaminations and/or occur at the production, storage and preparation of foods. On the other hand, certain substances, such as additives or aroma substances, are added to foods intentionally during production. Such substances, including the natural ingredients of foods, can become a health risk for consumers under certain circumstances. For that reason additives and aroma substances must undergo a health assessment and be approved prior to their use in foods.

BfR assesses substance risks for:

  • Food ingredients, e.g. ingredients of plants and nutrients such as fats, vitamins and minerals which are relevant for health
  • Food additives, e.g. colorants and preservatives as well as processing auxiliaries
  • Aroma substances
  • Residues of pesticides and veterinary medicinal products
  • Contaminants, i.e. contaminations which can either reach the foods from the environment (such as heavy metals, dioxins) or are formed by microorganisms (such as moulds, algae) on or in the food and migrate into it (e.g. mould toxins (mycotoxins), marine biotoxins (phycotoxins).
  • Substances caused by processing, e.g. during the heating of foods

Substance risks must be distinguished from microbial risks, which are triggered by bacteria, viruses or fungi.

Risk assessment as a dynamic process

The basis for the health assessment of these substances in foods by BfR is the current international scientific state of knowledge. Since the latter is permanently developing, the appraisal of the health risk involved in a substance is always a dynamic process.


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