Studies & Numbers

Are Plant-Based, Precision Fermentation, and 3D Printed Products Less Safe to Eat than Conventional Foods?

A recent meeting for food safety assessment on New Food Sources and Production Systems (NFPS) organized by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) conducted a foresight exercise to explore and evaluate future safety issues of plant-based, precision fermentation, and 3D printed food products.

After the exercise and the evaluation of the current food safety standards, the meeting concluded that, in general, the food safety hazards of these NFPS are similar to those of conventional foods.

However, they emphasize that new production and processing technologies can introduce unique conditions within a specific NFPS, requiring careful monitoring and consideration from a food safety standpoint. They also added that it was important always to consider the intended uses of final products when conducting safety assessments on new food sources.

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Food safety issues to consider

The FAO published a summary of the food safety issues in plant-based food products, precision fermentation, and 3D food printing. It highlights the following aspects:

Regarding plant-based food products, a key aspect is how functional ingredients are made: the crops, their processing methods, and the transportation. Introducing new plants for food can pose new hazards and increase consumer exposure to toxins, agrochemicals, and heavy metals.

In addition, allergenicity resulting from new proteins or increased consumption of proteins from plant-based sources also requires assessment. Lastly, consumers may view plant-based products as microbiologically safer and not handle them appropriately, leading to food safety risks — proper labeling and consumer education could help mitigate these risks.

For precision fermentation, ongoing risk assessment is crucial as this field evolves rapidly. Safety considerations include allergenic risks of proteins, purification steps, and scale-up challenges during the commercialization process. Moreover, effective monitoring of manufacturing processes is essential to prevent contamination.

In the case of 3D food printing, existing food safety risk assessments and hygiene protocols could address potential hazards. Like other food processing equipment, hygienic design principles and education on safe use are essential to minimize risks. The conclusion noted that 3D printing can enable other food innovations to have additional safety implications.

supermarket trolley
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Enabling full potential

The summary also highlights important areas for further research and addressing data gaps. Specifically, more analysis of microbiological safety, allergenicity, mycotoxins, environmental contaminants, and the toxicology of plant secondary metabolites is necessary for plant-based food products.

For precision fermentation, the summary suggests developing detection techniques and additional research on allergenicity. In the case of 3D food printing, more information on food safety and consumer interactions with home-use devices would help to address food safety risks.

Overall, the conclusion emphasizes the importance of comprehensive risk assessment, proper labeling, consumer education, and ongoing research to ensure the safety of novel foods and production systems.

“With strong momentum likely foreseen for the sector, timely evaluation of food safety issues will enable the sector to reach full potential while protecting consumer health and ensuring fair trade,” reads the paper.

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