Food and feed can contain many chemical agents, which contain risks to humans and animals which have to be known. In order to describe the magnitude of the risk, information is needed on the exposure to the chemicals, the short-term and long-term effects of the agents and the dose-response relationship. Evira’s risk assessment activities focus on the following chemical groups found in foodstuffs:
1. Heavy metals
2. Persistent organic pollutants (POP compounds)
3. Medicinal residues
4. Harmful agents that emerge during food preparation (e.g. acrylamide)
5. Natural agents (e.g. nitrate, coumarin, caffeine)
6. Metabolites of moulds and bacteria (e.g. toxic moulds)
7. Chemicals purposely added to food (e.g. food additives)
8. Agents migrating from packaging material
When assessing the exposure to chemicals transmitted to the consumer via food, it is essential to know what the consumers eat. The consumer’s exposure to chemicals can be assessed with the help of food consumption data and the data on the content of chemical agents.
The function of risk assessment or parts of it, such as the assessment of intake or exposure, is to produce information for the needs of risk management. The information gained can be used for issuing recommendations on intake of different foods (e.g. recommendations for fish intake, liver intake) or for developing legislation on contaminants and additives (e.g. the highest permitted concentrations in food). Ultimately, risk assessment is aimed at reducing the risk that chemicals pose to the consumer. Special attention is to be paid to groups more susceptible to chemical exposure, such as children, young people and pregnant women.
The European Food Safety Authority EFSA works in close co-operation with the member countries, collating information on chemical hazards and assessing the risks they cause to consumers. More and more often, EFSA carries out calculations on the exposure of Europeans to chemicals based on food consumption data and concentration information received from the member countries. The European Commission uses EFSA’s risk assessments for example when issuing an opinion for legislative purposes or for giving recommendations and opinions. National risk assessments are carried out alongside EU-level risk assessments.