Food contamination: ANSES suggests better targeted controls for greater effectiveness

ANSES has conducted an assessment of the surveillance and control scheme for chemical contaminants in food implemented in France between 2010 and 2014. On the basis of a risk assessment, it noted that to a large extent the scheme did address the health issues. Areas for improvement were also suggested, which will help the public authorities focus their surveillance and control efforts on data collection according to the risks, in order to better ensure consumer safety.

In France, foodstuffs are continuously monitored through surveillance and control plans. These are essential tools for food safety and are governed by European regulations. The revision of these regulations will give Member States more latitude in the choice and organisation of controls.

In this context, ANSES was asked to make proposals on developing the plans with a dual objective: to maintain and even reinforce the high level of safety for consumers, and to optimise surveillance resources and costs.

Exposure to chemical contaminants in food: an analysis of surveillance and control

ANSES has established a methodology for assessing surveillance and control plans based on the health risk associated with exposure to chemical contaminants in food. It carried out an assessment of the levels of contamination of foodstuffs according to pairs of chemicals and foods, measured from 2010 to 2014 in the sectors concerned and at different stages of the food chain. All the available public data were taken into account: results from surveillance and control plans, ANSES total diet study, national and European health alerts. ANSES also analysed the suitability of European recommendations on the choice of chemical-food pairs in relation to consumer exposure levels.

Following this assessment, ANSES found that for nearly three-quarters of the chemical-food pairs examined, the scheme did address the regulatory and health issues. For the remaining quarter, deficiencies and redundancies were identified in the plans.

ANSES's recommendations

The Agency has made proposals to improve the surveillance and control plans, listing parameters that could be optimised and taking account of complementarity with other existing control tools.

The scheme for monitoring chemical contamination of food (e.g. trace metal elements in milk) was regarded as suitable and able to address the health and regulatory issues, in nearly three-quarters of cases considered (74.3%).

In 16.8% of cases, mainly for heavy metals in certain fish and seafood, mycotoxins in pulses and nuts, and acrylamide in snacks, desserts, cereals and cereal products, ANSES recommends strengthening it.

With regard to non-regulated substances, the recommendations suggest scaling down monitoring in 66% of cases to concentrate efforts on 26.1% of the substance/foodstuff pairs that are not regulated but are cause for concern, such as PCBs and PCDD/Fs – dioxins, furans and chlorinated products – in eggs and egg products, or nitrate in fruit and derivative products.

The Agency also recommends regulating certain chemical-food pairs. Examples include PCBs and PCDD/Fs in meat products, phytotoxins in pulses and nuts, and certain perfluorinated compounds in meat and meat products, fish and seafood, eggs and egg products, and milk and milk products.