What are novel foods and food ingredients?

Thanks to globalisation and the endless identification of additional sources of nutrients, new types of food are constantly appearing on our plates. In France, the nutrivigilance scheme monitors any adverse effects associated with their consumption. What are these novel foods and ingredients and how are they regulated in Europe?

Novel foods, an old concept

Many of the foods we eat today were considered new when they first arrived in Europe: bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, pasta, tropical fruits and maize, as well as most of the spices we now use.

Even today, new types of food or food ingredients, from all over the world or resulting from new ways of producing these foods, continue to arrive on our plates.

Guar gum, noni juice, baobab fruit and some insects are regarded as novel foods.

What are novel foods?

In the European Union, any food that was not consumed to a significant degree before May 1997 is defined as a novel food.

This category covers novel foods such as chia seeds, but also new sources of food components such as oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids obtained from krill.

There are also new substances called "novel ingredients" used to fortify certain foods with nutrients, such as phytosterols (plant sterols).

Novel foods also include foods produced using new methods such as nanotechnology.

Did you know?

"Traditional foods from a third country" is a subset of novel foods and refers to foods customarily consumed in countries outside the European Union.

How are novel foods regulated?

Novel foods are defined in European Regulation (EU) No 2015/2283. Since 1 January 2018, the European Commission has been responsible for authorising novel foods and, as part of this procedure, can ask the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to carry out a scientific risk assessment to establish their safety.

The Commission only authorises a novel food and adds it to the list of authorised novel foods if it meets the following conditions: the food does not, on the basis of the scientific evidence available, pose a safety risk to human health; the food's intended use does not cause a nutritional imbalance.

If the Commission’s decision is favourable, the novel food can be placed on the market throughout the European Union. The authorisation is generic; any manufacturer can then market the authorised novel food, as long as they comply with the conditions of use, labelling and specifications.

The new regulation simplifies the authorisation process for the notification of traditional foods from third countries by requiring proof of a history of safe use in at least one country outside the EU for a period of 25 years.

In France, ANSES runs the national nutrivigilance scheme, which collects reports of adverse effects associated with certain food products such as novel foods. Healthcare professionals, manufacturers and individuals can report any adverse effect likely to be associated with the consumption of these products, thereby helping to improve knowledge of these products and consumer safety.