Food contamination risks: Old is not new

“Food safety in Europe is currently at a high level,” ​Ine van der Fels-Klerx, Professor of Food Safety Economics at Wageningen University, and who is also part of the European Food Information Council’s (EUFIC) HOLiFOOD project​, told FoodNavigator.

The introduction of the General Food Law (EC/178/2002) ​in early 2000 and all related rules and measures have helped to continuously improve food safety in recent decades. Despite the implementation of the overarching food legislation, food fraud is an ongoing issue in the European sector.

“Food contamination, some related to fraudulent practices, some related to industrial chemistry, some purely accidental, remains an international problem,”​ Deborah Blum​, Director of Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook and The Poison Squad, told FoodNavigator, describing the European food contamination landscape today.

Evolving practices to end food contamination

“The field of toxicology has become more sophisticated, enabling us to recognise chemical risks at a very low dose level,” ​Blum detailed. Some of the industry’s safety standards set at the part per million or even part per billion level are based on very good science. “At the same time, our ability to detect at such low levels has increased exponentially,” ​added Blum. 

As a result, consumers are much better at identifying hazardous or fraudulent materials in food and drinks. The challenge, however, is not so much gaining further knowledge to know what to do but instead, the willingness to act accordingly and to invest in enough equipment and enough people to protect ourselves.