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Risk assessment of contaminants in food and feed


European Food Safety Authority

Alexander J, Benford D, Boobis A, Eskola M, Fink-Gremmels J, Fürst P, Heppner C, Schlatter J, van Leeuwen R

Note: This article is part of the Special Issue: Scientific achievements, challenges and perspectives of the European Food Safety Authority: Taking stock of the 10 years activities and looking ahead


The EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) carries out risk assessment on contaminants in food and feed. The presence of hazardous chemical contaminants or undesirable substances in food and feed is often unavoidable as these substances may occur ubiquitously or are of natural origin. Therefore, human and animal exposure to such substances is also unavoidable. The task of the CONTAM Panel is to assess whether or not exposure to a chemical contaminant in food is likely to be associated with adverse health effects in the European population. Similarly, the Panel assesses if the exposure to a contaminant in feed is likely to be associated with adverse health effects in farm animals, fish and pets in Europe, or to represent a risk to the consumer of foods of animal origin. In contrast to EFSA Panels dealing with regulated substances where inter alia applications are taken into account, the CONTAM Panel relies on scientific information that is in the public domain. EFSA often launches calls for data on occurrence of contaminants in food and feedstuffs where Member States and other interested stakeholders are invited to submit data. Whenever possible and required the CONTAM Panel establishes for a substance a health-based guidance value such as tolerable daily intake. For substances that are both genotoxic and carcinogenic, or for which the data are inadequate to establish a health-based guidance value, the margin of exposure approach is used. Recently the CONTAM Panel also used the threshold of toxicological concern approach. In addition, the CONTAM Panel considers inherent uncertainties in relation to objectives, exposure and hazard characterisation in its risk assessments. During 2003-2012, the CONTAM Panel published 107 scientific outputs (55 on food, 43 on feed, 9 on food and feed).