A project to harmonise follow-up of food exposure to chemical contaminants

Knowledge on possible chemical contamination of foods and on their nutritional composition is a major tool for health and safety and for nutritional policy. This information makes it possible to determine population exposure through food and to enable the State to make informed decisions on risk management.

In France, monitoring of chemical contamination of food is routinely conducted within a regulatory framework via control and surveillance programmes managed by the relevant ministries. Additional data can be obtained by conducting a “total diet study” (TDS). A TDS is intended to quantify food intake of contaminants in the entire diet, and not just a single category of food analysed separately, and to monitor “background noise” exposure of populations via food to the substances of interest to public health. Two TDSs have been carried out in France, with the second one conducted by ANSES. The Agency is currently undertaking a TDS focused on infant diets (0-3 age group).

In Europe, several countries regularly conduct this type of study. However, the methodologies used are not harmonised which hinders comparison of results from one country to another, thus complicating Europe-wide regulatory decision-making. Furthermore, some Member States do not yet perform total diet studies at all.

As a result of this finding, the European Union has decided to finance a research project aimed at promoting a common EU methodology which would make it possible to carry out studies on exposure to different food contaminants such as heavy metals, mycotoxins, pesticide residues or even persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins.

Towards European harmonisation of TDSs and the creation of a European network

This project has been entrusted to ANSES and to a consortium of partners. The TDS-Exposure project will thus be conducted over a period of 4 years as of 1 February 2012. It will include 26 partners from 18 European countries and one EU accession candidate country.

The objectives of the project are to promote total diet studies across the continent, within a harmonised methodological framework. EFSA, the WHO and the FAO are some of the stakeholders interested in this initiative and are following the project and its results closely in order to use the data at a later stage.

This project aims to evaluate and harmonise the methods used to define target categories of contaminants for total diet studies, sampling of studied foods, and modelling of exposure.
A database will be set up to collate existing TDS data in Europe, and pilot studies will be implemented in five countries that do not currently have total diet study programmes or which would like to update their methodology: Germany, Finland, Iceland, Portugal, Czech Republic.

The ultimate goal is to improve assessment of risks related to chemical contaminants in our diet, and thereby to better manage these risks.