Skip main navigation

Regulations exist and all subjects must follow: a chain of trust

Regulations exist and all subjects must follow them: a chain of trust.

Regulations exist and all subjects must follow

You learned about various chemicals present in food, their origin and properties. The term chemical is neither bad or good. Although some people identify chemical with artificial and synthetic, and therefore non-natural and therefore dangerous, this is not the case. It is just a question of terminology. Chemicals are all the substance and molecules that make up our body and that of animals and plants (water, minerals, small organic metabolites, proteins, carbohydrate, lipids, nucleid acids). Nothing more natural that these. And chemicals are all the components of food products such as carbohydrates, proteins, etc. that are all natural and naturally harmless.

One more useful distinction is about the origin of a chemical, if natural or artificially produced by human activities. This distincion, however, does not tell us if a chemical is harmless or harmful. There are natural chemicals that are highly toxic and even lethal, and a million of chemicals produced by man that are harmless or perhaps cure people affected by diseases.

Some chemicals present in food can have undesired properties for people and animals, if they are consumed in too high concentrations or for prolonged periods of time. These can be natural, but most commonly are man-made.

Let’s have a look at the regulations about the presence of chemicals in foods/drinks and parameters, with a main focus on the EU. To protect consumers’ health, the EU established the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an agency that provide scientific advises on the potential risks related to the chemicals present in food. The agency’s main task is to carry out scientific risk assessments on possible hazards associated with the food chain, including the potential danger posed by chemicals in food. EFSA conduct their work by the review of scientific data on the toxicological studies with the use of experimental animals or preferably obtained in human studies if possible. They also evaluate the risk assessment applications prepared by the industry (such as food manufacturers), according to the ESFA’s guideline. EFSA evaluates the risk of food additives, food enzymes, food flavourings, nutrient sources such as food supplements and botanicals, food chain residues and contaminants.

As risk assessor, EFSA provides independent scientific advice to support the risk managers in defining appropriate regulatory frameworks and making decisions to protect consumers, which resulted in a series of regulations regarding different groups of chemical additives such as EU List of Food Flavourings

EFSA prepares information about the chemicals according to the following definitions: The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is the amount of a specific substance in food or drinking water that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without an appreciable health risk. ADI is expressed by the mass of the chemical (usually in milligrams) per kilogram of body weight per day.

The Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) is an estimate of the quantity of a chemical substance to which we may be exposed through environmental contamination, and which when found in food can be ingested daily over a lifetime without significant risk to health. The difference between ADI and TDI is that ADI relates to the chemicals intentionally added to a product, while TDI relates to the non-intentionally added chemicals, as a result of environmental pollutions, packaging or other reasons.

No Observed Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) is the greatest concentration or amount of a substance found by observations or experiments, which causes no detectable adverse effect in the exposed population under defined conditions of exposure. NOAEL is scaled by a safety factor, conventionally of 100, to account for the differences between test animals and humans (factor of 10) and possible differences in sensitivity between humans (additional factor of 10).

No Observed Effect Level (NOEL) is the greatest concentration or amount of a substance found by observation or experiments which causes no detectable adverse effect in the exposed population distinguishable from those observed in normal (control) organism of the same species and strain under defined conditions of exposure.

For some substances, such as genotoxic carcinogens, the threshold approached such as NOEL/NOAEL are not considered a suitable method for setting ADIs. There are two alternative approaches: 1) to ban the chemical from commercial use, or 2) to establish a level of risk that is sufficiently small to be considered negligible or societally acceptable.

An important definition is the Maximum Residue Level (MRL): the upper levels of pesticide residues that are legally tolerated in food or feed. These must be safe for all consumers and are set as low as possible to protect the most vulnerable consumers such as children. MRLs are based on good agricultural practices, that is the minimum amount of pesticide needed to protect crops. These levels are kept under scrutiny and when new data emerge on a possible risk, they can be lowered to reduce the exposure of operators, consumers and the environment.

This article is from the free online

Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now