The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently highlighted various completed fellowship projects across Europe, providing insight into EFSA’s work in the in the realm of food safety risk assessment. Fellows focused on various chemical and microbiological hazards, including edible insects as an allergen, foodborne enteric viruses, food contact materials (FCMs), toxic heavy metals, and pesticides.

The fellows were a part of the European Food Risk Assessment (EU-FORA) Fellowship Program, which is an EFSA initiative to ensure preparedness for future risk analysis needs. The program aims to increase the pool of food safety risk assessment experts available in Europe and stimulate the involvement of EU Member States in risk assessment work, with the ultimate objective of building a common EU culture for risk assessment.

Allergenicity of Insects

EFSA has a responsibility to analyze and identify the potential allergenicity of novel foods and proteins. In support of this goal, EFSA fellows worked on two projects related to the allergenicity of insects.

One fellow drafted a literature review to summarize, assess, and identify gaps in the current strategies for predicting the allergenicity of novel foods and new alternative protein sources. Additionally, the fellow engaged in research at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, conducting an allergenicity assessment case study of the black soldier fly larva as a potential future protein. The assessment also took into consideration toxicological, nutritional, and microbial risks. Both the literature review and the findings of the allergenicity assessment will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

The second fellow also conducted a literature review, which aimed to identify the number of insects and insect material already consumed in the EU, and all aspects regarding the safe consumption of insect material. In tandem with the literature review, the fellow tested the effect of food processing on the allergenicity of insect proteins. The final goal of the research is the compilation of all relevant data regarding the safety of insects as food or food ingredients and the commodity’s potential consumption in the EU.

Foodborne Virus Risk Assessment

Two fellows conducted comprehensive literature reviews and research on the risk assessment of enteric viruses in food, and created a risk ranking for foodborne viruses in the EU. After identifying significant food–virus combinations as high-risk, the fellows compiled a review of quantitative predictive models for the inactivation of viruses during processing. Building on their previous work, the fellows carried out a fully quantitative, bottom-up risk ranking exercise, comparing the impact of different intervention methods on consumer health, and discussing the costs and benefits of each method. The fellows’ literature reviews and findings are being prepared for publication, and their collection of inactivation models could be incorporated in online software tools.

Chemical Risk Assessment

Fellows engaged in a variety of work in the area of chemical risk assessment, focusing on FCMs, toxic heavy metals, and pesticides.

In a two-part project, one fellow investigated risk assessment communication and how food matrices affect heavy metals. The first part of the work program aimed to provide insights into the translation of two essential terms used in food risk assessment—“hazard” and “risk”—revealing problematic inconsistencies across different Member States’ languages. From these findings, EFSA recommends correcting all regulations containing inconsistent translations of terms related to food risk assessment. The second part of the work program investigated the impact of food matrices on the bioaccessibility and bioavailability of heavy metals and metalloids, compiling data on cadmium, lead, mercury, and arsenic for future analyses related to dietary exposure.

A second fellow studied the potential of a specific enzyme as a biosensor for the detection of pesticide residues, observing its efficacy in laboratory-made compounds and real food samples, such as fruits and juices. The research represents a starting point to develop effective fluorescence-based biosensors, and could also have applications in the fields of food traceability and environmental monitoring to control the presence of toxic chemicals, specifically organophosphate pesticides. The fellow’s findings were presented as a poster at the 2022 Biochemistry Global Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

Finally, one fellowship project focused on the risk assessment ofFCMs. The fellow evaluated toxicological data from application dossiers for new substances submitted to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment’s (BfR’s)Recommendations on Food Contact Materials. The fellow also conducted a literature review on the safety of bioplastics intended to be used as FCMs, paying attention to starch-based materials. Finally, the fellow engaged in laboratory work in the German National Reference Laboratory at the BfR, with the aim of establishing proper methodologies for testing migration in enamel articles under hot fill conditions. The results of the risk assessment review for starch-based FCMs and the results of the migration studies are intended to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.