The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently determined the use of mealworms as a novel food to be safe. EFSA’s Panel on Nutrition, Novel Foods, and Food Allergens formed an opinion on the safety of the novel food to support the European Commission’s (EC’s) decision regarding an application from Ÿnsect Netherlands (formerly Proti-Farm Holding NV) to commercialize mealworms as an ingredient.
EFSA assessed the safety of frozen and freeze-dried mealworms in whole, paste, and powder forms for consumption by the general population. In its application to EC, Ÿnsect proposed to use the novel food as an ingredient in products such as cereal bars, pasta, imitation meats, baked goods, and adult food supplements.
The panel found the main components of the novel food to be crude protein and fat, and to a lesser extent, carbohydrates and chitin fiber. Although the panel notes that the true protein content of mealworms is overestimated, consumption of the novel food is not nutritionally disadvantageous as long as it is not relied upon as a sole source of dietary protein.
EFSA also concluded that the levels of harmful contaminants detected in mealworms depends on the concentration of contaminants in the insect feed. Additionally, EFSA states that a 90-day toxicity study of edible mealworms did not raise any food safety concerns. However, EFSA cautions that the consumption of mealworms may induce allergic reactions for those with crustacean and dust mite allergies, and that allergens found in the insect feed may transfer to the novel food.
Allergen risks aside, EFSA holds the opinion that mealworms are safe for consumption as a novel food under the proposed uses and use levels. The EFSA assessment is pending confirmation by the EC’s Health Directorate General, who will determine if the novel food receives authorization for market approval across the EU.