Sécurité sanitaire aliments
24/07/2020 3 min

Food safety: ANSES offers a tool for ranking chemical and biological hazards

From farm (food production and processing) to fork (consumption), the food we eat can be contaminated by various chemical and biological agents (hazards), posing a risk to our health.  To help risk managers optimise the safety of our food, ANSES has developed a methodology for prioritising these hazards. Its proposed decision-support tool provides guidance on how to better monitor and prevent food contamination. After testing it on a number of hazards, the plan is now to deploy this tool on a larger scale.

The Agency has developed a tool to optimise food safety

Before initiating preventive food safety measures, it is necessary to rank the chemical and biological hazards that can contaminate our food and prioritise risk situations (food-hazard pairs presenting the greatest risk). To do this, the Agency created a multi-hazard and multi-food health ranking tool using a step-by-step approach:  

  • first step: identification and selection of 35 biological hazards (21 bacteria, toxins or metabolites; 10 parasites, 4 viruses and non-conventional transmissible agents), 11 families of chemical contaminants (persistent organic pollutants, pesticide residues, etc.) and several thousand food-hazard pairs considered relevant;
  • second step: definition of ranking criteria based on the probability of occurrence of the hazard (number of new cases of disease per year, estimate of the number of cases associated with consumption of the food, etc.) and the severity of the associated adverse effects (mortality, morbidity, carcinogenic or neurotoxic effects, etc.). The relative importance assigned to each of the criteria is to be decided by risk managers in relation to their management/action objectives;
  • third step: collection of available data, entry and aggregation of criteria within the tool.

In view of the considerable amount of available data and possible food-hazard combinations, the Agency tested the tool's application and potential through a limited number of hazards and food-hazard pairs for both the chemical and biological aspects.

ANSES now recommends that the methodology developed be deployed to all the identified hazards and food-hazard pairs.

The Agency's recommendations: build a permanent database and deploy the methodology as part of national and international partnerships

Now that the proposed methodology has been successfully tested, the Agency recommends:

  • carrying out additional work on structuring, integrating and building a permanent database, and then updating it. This should be done with a view to ensuring the long-term future, in the planning of the Agency's work and in national and international partnerships;
  • applying the methodology to all hazards and food-hazard pairs;
  • assisting risk managers, to facilitate the tool's adoption and proper use, in particular for the part corresponding to the weighting of the ranking criteria;
  • obtaining data on identification, characterisation and exposure to emerging hazards, which cannot at this stage be ranked;
  • besides the health ranking criteria, developing economic (cost of the disease) and societal criteria (media attention related to a hazard or a food-hazard pair, for example), in order to provide managers with greater insights for their decision-making.

This formal request formed the third phase of the requests to which the Agency has been responding following the work of the Interministerial Committee for the modernisation of public administration (CIMAP) on food safety. Two opinions were issued in 2017 and 2018 on source attribution for foodborne infectious diseases (PDF) (in French). A third opinion, published in 2019, looked at optimising the monitoring of chemical contamination of food (PDF) (in French).