What car safety can teach to food safety

The skills of a food safety expert, or a food risk assessor, are quite distant from those of an expert of car safety.  For cars, the risks are not of a microbial, or chemical, nature as those that worry food safety types.

Nevertheless, as in the case of nuclear safety, a recent article in The Economist on car safety provides some thought-provoking inspiration.

The first aspect of interest is the race to build more safety into cars. The article cites Volvo’s self-driving V40 car, and Nissan’s future car: the new Nissan will anticipate driver’s next moves. The incentive is clear. As the article’s author puts it “in the short term, novel safety devices can help carmakers squeeze more profit out of buyers.”

A market-based approach to safety has also been advocated for foods. Food businesses offer us organic, fat-free, socially responsible, premium, PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) foods; why can’t they offer us also food which is safer than the competition?  There is of course a legal catch, at least in the EU; you cannot claim that a food has characteristics that all similar food products have. Since all food has to be safe by law (if it not safe, it cannot stay on the market), claiming your food product is safe (or safer) is akin claiming that your food is superior when it merely has characteristics that all food has, or needs to have. So marketing food safety should be prohibited. Surely, though, determined marketers, clever consultants and smart lawyers can get around the prohibition.

But there is a more serious catch, which the article explains in reference to safety devices:

But drivers soon come to expect them as standard, as do regulators….When this happens, such gadgetry becomes just another manufacturing cost“.

This is perhaps a reason for “safe food marketing” never to have been a workable solution.

There is however a more encouraging note in the article. Modern technology has helped reduce car fatalities: according to the article, in 2010 US car accident mortality was the lowest since 1949. Though, with a death toll of over 33,000, there is still much to do. In many ways, this reminds the successes, and failures, of food safety.

What is most inspiring comes from Volvo. Its safety-research chief,  Thomas Broberg said that their “aim is that by 2020 no one will ever be killed or seriously hurt driving their latest models“. No matter how “stupid” the driver is. In the food sector, where blaming the consumer is still state-of-the art risk communication, this is refreshing.

Food businesses have total safety built in regulations – yet, the food safety system, occasionally, still fails. Perhaps, food trade associations, or individual companies, should give themselves a 2020 goal similar to Volvo‘s.

_ Luca Bucchini, Managing Director –

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What nuclear safety can teach food safety

Doubtless, foodborne pathogens and contamination have caused more deaths and disease than civil nuclear technology. Luckily, however, producing safe food – or even mostly safe food – is a much easier task than managing a nuclear reactor. A recent article on The Economist provides interesting insights of what nuclear – and food – safety have in common.

The article debates the Fukushima disaster, and sums it up this way:

the equipment was “of an old design. The risks they faced had not been well analysed. The operating company was poorly regulated and did not know what was going on. The operators made mistakes. The representatives of the safety inspectorate fled. Some of the equipment failed. The establishment repeatedly played down the risks and suppressed information…

This could be a food company responsible for an outbreak – happens all the time. Old equipment, lack of proper risk analysis, bad management, lax regulation, human error, equipment failure, no communication of risks.

Philippe Jamet, of France’s nuclear regulator, says something food safety people should listen to: often safety people have a shortfall of imagination, it has not happened so it can’t happen. In his words, “If you had asked me a year ago about an accident in which multiple units were left without power and cooling. I would have said it was not credible.

A good lesson follows:

The need to keep questioning things—from the details of maintenance procedures to one’s sense of the worst that could go wrong—is at the heart of a successful safety culture. …the example of a worker noticing that a diesel generator has been switched off. It is not enough to switch it back on. You also have to ask how and why it got switched off, and what other consequences that may have had. When you have got to the root of it, you not only have to change procedure but also to make sure that all other similar plants know about the problem and how to solve it.

Keep questioning things, rather than assuming that the standard is fine, is important in food safety, as is the food safety culture across the organization.

There’s a final interesting piece, especially to countries that, as their key safety message, keep telling consumers to buy national to be absolutely safe:

In many places, and particularly in Japan, the industry has felt a need to tell the public that nuclear power is safe in some absolute way…..

and after disaster:

If the Japanese nuclear establishment—industry and regulators alike—wants to earn trust, it must be seen to be learning every lesson it can. It must admit how little it previously deserved trust and explain clearly how it will do better in future. Even then, such trust will not always be given.

This seems a very good remark for many food risk managers and communicators. There is a lesson for any national food authority, or industry, which has failed. More generally, complacency has no place in the nuclear, but also in the food safety industry.

– Luca Bucchini, Managing Director –

Caffeine and sport: recent studies

New interesting evidence related to the involvement of caffeine in sport performance has been published during the last month.

The first of these studies suggests that 6 mg/kg BW caffeine supplementation improves by ~2% rowing (2000 m effort)
performance; combination with sodium bicarbonate seems to prevent performance enhancement, due tu GI side effects.
Further investigation to minimize GI symptoms is required. Health claims on caffeine have received favorable opinions by EFSA but have caused concerns with Member States.
The second one reports that adding 8 mg/kg BM caffeine to postexercise carbohydrate (CHO) feedings seems to improve subsequent high-intensity interval-running capacity compared with CHO alone. This effect may be related to higher rates of postexercise muscle glycogen resynthesis previously observed under similar feeding conditions. In line with EFSA health claim assessment (still controversial with Member States) it may be interesting to suggest on label to take
caffeine supplements after the intake of CHO, or with CHO. Nevertheless the recommended dosage in the study seems to be too high (560 mg/day for a 70 kg person).

In both studies a potential concern seems to be related to the levels of caffeine used. For example EFSA, in its opinions, takes into
account lower levels of caffeine compared to those used in trials; Member States allow lower amounts of caffeine in food supplements (Belgium bans solid caffeine). In Italy, for example, no more than 300 mg/day caffeine are informally allowed.

These studies provide further support to the use of caffeine in sports under some circumstances, although levels may be an issue.


Armando Antonelli – Sport Nutrition Team

Sorbitol death is wake-up call for Internet retailers

In Barletta, a town with 91,000 inhabitants in South-East Italy, a woman has died, and two have been hospitalized after ingesting a vial which seems to have contained sorbitol. According to Carlo Locatelli, of the Poisons Center in Pavia, Italy, which is one of Italy’s leading Poisons Centers, the patients developed methemoglobinemia, a condition in which oxygen cannot be captured by red blood cells. Fortunately, the two surviving patients were saved by prompt administration of methylene blue, a colour dye, which also reverses methemoglobinemia .

Sorbitol is a polyol which naturally occurs in fruit, and is widely used in candies and other low-calorie products. From the outset, the symptomatology suggested that nitrates could be responsible for the tragic deaths. According to Italy’s Ministry of Health, there is no information suggesting product contamination. Nevertheless, the Italian police squad assigned to food safety matters, the NAS, have seized over 1,000 tons of food-grade sorbitol at Cargill’s plants in Northern Italy but have apparently ordered no product testing. The implicated sorbitol was manufactured at Cargill’s plant in Rovigo, in Northern Italy. The most recent media reports indicate that the product was 70% sodium nitrite, and it is unclear how it could have been mistaken for sorbitol. News that implicated an industry-grade sorbitol lot (sorbitol is also used for manufacturing plastics, etc) are not confirmed.

It is early to say what the root cause of the problem was, or what failed in the system that should protect patients, and to separate the root cause from the inevitable legal blame-game that follows tragedies.

The doctors administering the sorbitol-based test seem to have purchased the product from eBay, which has expressed sorrow and halted globally the sales of sorbitol. It is unclear if a recall should follow, or if it will. There’s no basis at this time to suggest that food companies should recall sorbitol-containing products; however, they can trace their sorbitol to exclude the affected lot is involved. Moreover, they should follow closely the events.

Cargill has issued a press release in Italian (well done, and the loss of website formatting means their crisis team had to act quickly), explaining that the lot was manufactured at their site in February 2010, and since packaged elsewhere. The product conformed to tests when it left the production site.

As we wait for further news, it is still unclear how the product was sold over ebay.

For the moment, this tragedy seems to show that Internet retailers, when selling foods or food ingredients, are food business operators, and should ensure the safety of their products – much like grocery retailers do – and issuing recalls when necessary.  eBay seems to be behaving like a responsible food business. Others, like Amazon, should start doing the same even if they think they’re not food businesses.

– Luca Bucchini, Managing Director –

Food Colorings maximum levels are going to change

Commission Regulation (EU) 232/2012 (link) establishes new maximum levels for some food colorings, amending the Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008. These changes will involve the following dyes: Quinoline Yellow (E 104), Sunset Yellow FCF/ Orange Yellow S (E 110) and Ponceau 4R, Cochineal Red A (E 124). The  Regulation will apply from 1 June 2013, but food containing these 3 colorings that have been lawfully placed on the market before 1 June 2013 but that do not comply with the provisions of this Regulation, may continue to be marketed until stocks are exhausted.

The reductions in maximum levels mirror the reduced Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels set by EFSA.. and are quite significant.

Several food products are affected. Regarding food supplements the new maximum levels are listed below:

FS supplied in a solid form

E104 from 300 mg/kg to 35 mg/kg
E110 from 300 mg/kg to 10 mg/kg
E124 from 300 mg/kg to 35 mg/kg

FS supplied in a liquid form

E104 from 100 mg/kg to 10 mg/kg
E110 from 100 mg/kg to 10 mg/kg
E124 from 100 mg/kg to 10 mg/kg

FS supplied in a syrup-type or chewable form

Maximum level for all of them is 10 mg/kg (previously not established).

Food businesses should be aware of the changes, and ensure their suppliers are also reformulating in line with the new specifications. It should be noted that in the United States the maximum levels for E110 are not affected (it can be used according to GMPs); E104 and E124 are not permitted in the United States.
– Sport Nutrition Team –


ASA Adjudication on Leaf Italia SRL

Leaf Italia, maker of Sperlari, Dietorelle, Dietor, Pringles, as well as other brands, was not found in breach of UK advertising regulations (which are similar to those found across the EU) by the ASA. The use of an online game with fruit had been questioned as it suggested that eating Leaf’s candies was equivalent to eating fruit.

Leaf said the purpose of the game was to encourage children to eat fruit, but ASA found that this was unclear. Yet, because individuals exposed to the ads are old enough to differentiate flavored candies from fruit, and would understand the “landmarks” were the flavors of the candies, not actual fruit, and would not imply that the candies had nutritional benefits, ASA decided that the ad ” was unlikely to give a misleading impression of the nutritional and health benefits of the product”.

In our view, it should be noted that ASA has not hesitated to investigate the ads of a business which has its office elsewhere in the EU. On the other hand, ASA seems not to have taken a hard line over online games which are increasingly common, and link a brand of food which is not necessarily in line with recommended nutrient profiles with healthy nutrition. At the same time, as a note of caution, it should be noted that the explanations of Leaf were largely rejected.

Therefore attention is recommended, as other authorities across the EU may take a different stand.

– Luca Bucchini, Hylo’s managing director

International Women’s Day

Oggi celebriamo la Festa delle Donne. A Hylobates, crediamo che le donne che lavorano sono essenziali per il nostro progresso. Antonella, Francesca, Lucilla e Sonia sono membri fondamentali del nostro team – nel lavoro scientifico, nel project management, nelle scienze cosmetiche, e nell’amministrazione. Senza di loro, Hylobates sarebbe un’azienda molto peggiore, ammesso che potesse esistere.

Sappiamo anche che le donne, comprese le madri tra loro, sono risorse straordinarie per le aziende, e creare le condizioni in cui possano lavorare bene – orari flessibili, telelavoro – non è un gesto per aiutare le donne, ma serve al successo della nostra azienda. Dobbiamo continuare a pensare a modi migliori e più efficaci perché possano lavorare con noi.

Tanti auguri a tutte!

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/events/annual/international_womens_day/en/index.html

 

Today we celebrate Women’s Day. At Hylo, we believe that working women are essential to our progress. Antonella, Francesca, Lucilla and Sonia are key members of our team – in science, project management, cosmetic sciences and administration. Hylobates would be a much worse company, if it existed at all, without them.

We are also aware that women, including mothers, are extraordinary resources for businesses, and that creating the conditions for them to work well – flexible schedules, tele-working – is not helping them, it’s helping our company. We need to keep thinking of new and better ways.

Best wishes to you all!

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/events/annual/international_womens_day/en/index.html

– Hylo’s Team –

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