Over the past year, Mérieux NutriSciences has established a consulting partnership with George E. Dunaif Ph.D., DABT, CFS in order to better serve their clients in the area of food toxicology. In part two of this three-part series, Dr. Dunaif gives us an overview of the field of toxicology and its importance to the food industry.
What is Toxicology?
Toxicology is the science of poisons and is focused on the scientific nature, effects, and detection of chemicals that can have a deleterious impact on the health of humans and animals. Specifically, food toxicology is a specialty within the discipline of toxicology that is inclusive of food ingredients, dietary supplements and botanicals, and finished products comprised of these substances that are intended for human consumption.
It is also a discipline and expertise that can best understand the biological and chemical relationship and impact on the health of naturally occurring toxins and a wide array of environmental chemicals that can occur in ingredients and foods, including pesticides, heavy metals, and mycotoxins.
Why is Toxicology important in the food industry?
I consider food toxicology as an extension of food quality and food safety. While most companies tend to focus on quality and food safety with respect to food microbiology, it is essential to also consider the potential for harm to human health as a result of chemical factors.
The three critical legs of food safety are microbiological (i.e., pathogenic organisms), toxicological (i.e., chemicals), and physical factors (i.e., foreign materials).
Where does quality fit in the paradigm?
Simply stated, there is no quality where any attribute of food safety is in question. All food companies are required by law and regulations to assure product safety and quality. Moreover, building consumer trust is an essential component of building both brand loyalty and overall consumer satisfaction.
What sort of recent regulatory compliance requirements impact food ingredients and products from a toxicological perspective?
Many examples could be cited. A few recent important examples for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated products would include the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) signed into law in 2011 and the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) signed into law in 2006. Both of these laws have had an important and far-reaching positive impact on food safety, including chemical food safety.
Both of these laws and the regulations that they generated require an active and ongoing commitment by the food manufacturer. Many companies have these resources internally, while others do not. This is where and when the role of the food safety consultant can be a critical augment to large, medium, and small food companies.
Could you expand a bit concerning both FSMA and FALCPA with respect to how they can potentially impact a food or dietary supplement company?
FSMA requires food companies and dietary supplement companies to attain a new and more proactive approach to preventing foodborne illnesses. Not only from foodborne pathogens, but also from chemicals added to foods from both direct and indirect food ingredients and/or naturally occurring toxins, including mycotoxins and heavy metals.
Since FSMA is squarely aimed at prevention as opposed to reacting to potential food safety issues, it requires a higher and broader mindset that seeks to anticipate critical issues and develop a Food Safety Plan (FSP) in order to address areas of concern before they can occur.
FALCPA has been in wide application in the USA for over fourteen years. While it is designed to help individuals with food allergies, it is primarily aimed at enforcing the clear labeling of the eight most common food allergens. It has been very effective in accomplishing its primary goals and has helped to protect millions of people who must depend on food labels to provide clear allergen content of packaged foods regulated by the FDA.
However, to assure compliance with FALCPA, food manufacturers must also be able to establish and maintain an Allergen Control Plan (ACP) and effective allergen testing that seeks to assure that cross-contact is minimized through a number of strategies, such as allergen cleaning and appropriate storage of allergen-containing ingredients in addition to assuring that finished food products are properly labeled and that allergen testing is properly planned and executed where and when needed.