Food safety

Food safety activities involve the toxicological, nutritional-physiological or nutritional-medical assessment of foods.

Toxicological assessment of foods

It aims to ensure that foods only contain safe levels of substances:

  • Natural ingredients
    Depending on the level, the natural ingredients in a food may have a desirable effect - like caffeine in the stimulants coffee, tea or Cola beverages or an adverse effect - like solanine in potatoes.

  • Food additives
    To give foods certain properties, various substances are added like preservatives, antioxidants, thickening agents, sweeteners and flavourings. Other substances facilitate the processing of the foods and are called processing aids.

  • Residues and contaminants
    Undesirable substances, that may impair health, can

    • come from the environment;
    • be formed by micro-organisms (mould);
    • reach the food chain through feedstuffs for food-producing animals;
    • migrate to food during production, storage or treatment;
    • be formed during food processing (smoking, curing) or preparation (grilling,  frying, roasting).

Nutritional-medical food assessment

This provides insight into the extent to which the composition of a food permits its inclusion in various diets and whether the supply of the body with nutrients is guaranteed. Assessments are made of the risks arising from over or undersupply with nutrients like vitamins and minerals.

Food ingredients, placed on the market in isolated form as food supplements or additives, are also assessed. The Institute focuses, in particular, on dietetic foods like infant formula and complementary food.

Risk management recommendations

The findings obtained from the toxicological and nutritional-medical assessment of foods provide the scientific basis for the setting of maximum levels or limit values. BfR advises the competent national risk management agencies and the corresponding European authorities.

Research into greater food safety

BfR actively does research in the field of food safety. This encompasses the various production stages in the manufacturing and distribution chain, in line with the "farm to fork" principle. The goal is to identify molecular links as a first step towards developing strategies for consumer protection.

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