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Horizon scanning project for environmental contaminants
Project Code: C01040
University of York
Boxall, A ;
Central Science Laboratory
Rose, M; Stein, J; Sinclair, C
Identification of new threats to food safety is a key element in maintaining consumer safety and in ensuring that resources are adequately targeted at emerging issues so that potential problems are identified early enough to take action and so that evidence can be collected before issues become acute. For example, in the field of chemical safety current monitoring programmes for foods generally focus on quantifying levels of known contaminants. However, in recent years there has been increasing concern over the so-called emerging contaminants (including pharmaceuticals, veterinary medicines, degradates and personal care products). These are now being detected in a range of matrices. However, their risk to humans via indirect exposure is currently unknown.
This desk-based study was therefore performed to identify methods that could be used for identifying emerging contaminants that could be of concern to food safety. The approaches identified included monitoring of the literature, media and conferences and more pro-active prioritisation and chemical monitoring studies. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. For example: Retrospective monitoring is likely to demonstrate an actual risk but will only identify substances that researchers have actively investigated and may identify a risk after an impact has occurred; Prioritisation approaches can help to identify those substances of most concern that have not yet been studied but the application of these approaches is likely to be costly and highly data intensive. It will also not be possible to identify (and therefore prioritise) every substance that is released or formed in the environment; and analytical screening can identify previously unstudied (and sometimes unknown) compounds but many of the new techniques for screening are currently in their infancy, are unable to detect everything and have high limits of detection.
However, by combining two or more of these approaches it should be possible to develop a thorough understanding of those emerging contaminants that could pose a threat to food safety in the future as well as put in place an ongoing programme for monitoring threats to food safety.
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