What’s in your food: food-related risks to become easier to identify

How safe is the food we eat? Thanks to the first Total Diet Study conducted in Germany, this question will be easier to answer in future. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) today presented the concept and goals of the study at its BfR forum at the International Green Week in Berlin. "For the first time, a large-scale study is undertaken in Germany to establish what quantities of unwanted substances are contained in our food following processing and preparation", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "The study makes an important contribution to consumer health protection in Germany." The first ever Total Diet Study for Germany, which has just been launched, is entitled BfR MEAL Study (meals for exposure estimation and analysis of foods).

Total Diet Study (TDS) denotes an internationally recognised method to establish the average concentration in which substances are contained in prepared foods, the results provide a basis for detecting possible chronic risks from contaminated foods. With the results, dietary recommendations can be derived for high exposed population groups or in relation to specific foods. The BfR MEAL Study aims at lower analytical limits in the analysis of substances than normally used for checking compliance with regulations. This is one reason why the results will supply more precise data on average concentration than previously available. In future, this will allow more accurate assessment of chronic risks for a larger variety of substances. Additionally, the results may also be used to compare acute risks to background exposure, for example in case of a food-borne crisis. Previously, a number of substances could not be verified or were studied only in unprocessed foods.

For the first time in Germany, the BfR MEAL Study analyses on a large scale the risks that may arise from substances in food, e.g. after being processed and prepared for consumption. For this purpose, meals are tested for additives and contaminants formed during processing. Thus it is possible to determine, for example, the acrylamide contents of cookies or French fries which have been bought or are prepared in the household.

The study takes into account the entire food spectrum and analyses the dishes in the state in which they are typically eaten. To this end, BfR employees will in the coming years purchase approximately 50,000 to 60,000 different foods and prepare them in a kitchen specially set up for this purpose. These samples are analysed for various groups of substances in laboratories, both for health beneficial and for unwanted components. Apart from additives and process contaminants, these include substances from the environment (environmental contaminants such as dioxin), mycotoxins, nutrients, pesticides, veterinary drugs und materials which are migrating to the food from the packaging. Additionally, the study also investigates to what extent average concentration with substances in individual foods varies depending on region, season and production type (e.g. organic versus conventional cultivation). The first results for individual substance groups are expected to be available in 2018.

Total Diet Studies are currently conducted in more than 50 countries worldwide. The BfR has been commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) to launch the first TDS for Germany in 2015. The BfR MEAL Study is planned for seven years.

Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the BfR, Professor Dr. Helmut Heseker, President of the German Nutrition Society (DGE), registered association, Dr. Oliver Lindtner, Head of the BfR MEAL study at the BfR, and Dr. Gerald Moy, international expert and editor of the book “Total Diet Studies” contributed to the discussion of the BfR forum at the International Green Week.

The programme for the event is available at:

http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/343/was-im-essen-steckt-die-bfr-meal-studie.pdf (PDF file,1.08 MB)

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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