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 –

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 –

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

Twitter-based food risk communication still evolving

Here at Hylo we are following with attention the development of social media-based food risk communication. For example we participate to the EC project FoodRisc. We have also made a preliminary analysis of factors that may affect food recall communication on Twitter. For example we have looked at factors potentially influencing official retweets of the UK FSA’s risk-related messages. We have also produced a simple diagram of two different communication styles, those of the UK FSA and of the USDA: USDA uses hashtags, while the UK FSA seems better at increasing the targeting of message to affected groups.

Luca Bucchini – Managing director

Communicating food recalls to consumers is becoming more common in Italy. Leaf Italia, owner of the Sperlari brand, has gone public with a foreign body-caused recall of pralines.

 This breaks with Italy’s reluctance to go public with recalls, even if – interestingly – the company has prohibited the copying or distributing or discussing the press release issued on their website (for that reason we do not link to it; this discussion is based on what is reported on another source, see below).

“Companies in Italy have in their procedures to go public in these cases”, says Hylo’s Luca Bucchini, “Nevertheless, companies and national authorities have hesitated on the ground that ‘nobody ever goes public with a recall’. This is clearly changing. For example, last year, Carrefour went public. In this case, one should also note that foreign bodies in Italy have always been a low priority for regulators, in contrast with the UK or the US. As in other EU countries, regulators focus on microbial or chemical risk. This is therefore a significant departure from tradition, and we expect to see more of this since regional authorities are eager on this, and several companies were just waiting for someone to break the ice”.

At Hylo we believe that ordinary recalls, even if publicized, when no serious illnesses are involved, are not detrimental to a brand – Ikea is perhaps the best example – and are in line with EU law.

This news piece is not based on the Sperlari website. It is based on the information below:

http://www.ilfattoalimentare.it/sicurezza-alimentare-allerta-dalla-valle-daosta.html

Hylo Team

Hylobates presents the PlantLIBRA Project in the journal Food & Function

Authors from Hylobates and the University of Milan explain the goals of the EC-funded project PlantLIBRA in the recently published online paper of the journal Food & Function: “The PlantLIBRA Project: how we intend to innovate the science of botanicals” by Luca Bucchini, Alejandro Rodarte and Patrizia Restani

The paper presents the consortium’s plan for improving the science of botanicals and risk and benefit assessment methodologies for plant food supplements (PFS). In this 4 year project, partners are working to expand and generate knowledge on PFS through systematic reviews, intake surveys, new studies on benefits, risks and new analytical findings to ultimately ensure a safer use of PFS by consumers. By doing so, they plan to address data, methodology and consensus gaps in cooperation with different stakeholders and decision makers in the PFS sector.

– Alejandro Rodarte  –

Food firms on the continent should prepare for the nutrition information challenge

Having just returned from the UK and having stopped at McDonald’s to enjoy their free WiFi, I was greatly helped in making my food choices by energy content information displayed along the product list. They have chosen the more common kilocalories over more rigorous kJ, which also was helpful. Regardless of choices available in my energy target for lunch, I found the numbers very useful for eventually picking a grilled chicken salad.

What struck me is that, in Italy, there is no such information on display. As in the UK, at local McDonald’s, they have clear and complete nutrition facts on the back of the paper that covers your tray, but consumers have access to the information only after buying the product. I also dined in a small, independent restaurant (Valerie’s), and they also had energy content in their menu (other places did not: it is clearly voluntary).

I am not singling out the fast food chain; they are just following the national norm. Rather, it is interesting that the nutrition societal debate in the UK prompts caterers to provide that information, and that, bar very few exceptions (e.g., Wok at the Rome Termini Station does have it, if I am not mistaken, though their website is oddly silent), the nutrition culture climate in Italy does not have the same effect.

My point is that, though we have a great dietary culture, Italy is doing too little on nutrition and nutrition information. Some companies are rather active, but the nutrition culture is still lagging behind what is clearly an ever stronger need. I am not advocating specific solutions here, but calling for awareness.

Indeed, food companies, large and small, should be aware of the nutrition challenge which the obesity epidemic has generated, and, if smart, anticipate and find opportunities in the cultural shift that will eventually reach the Peninsula as well.

Based on recent experience, the same advice applies to Central Europe as well, including Germany and Belgium.

On our part, we, as consultants, need to be ready to provide the correct regulatory and technical advice; luckily, there starts to be enough regulation, and science, to give meaningful and robust suggestions.

– Luca Bucchini, Managing Director –

PS: I am not associated with any of the above businesses in any working capacity.

EFSA: caffeine for sports ok, but not for weight loss

The 8 of April 2011 EFSA’s NDA Panel has published the outcome of the evaluations of a fourth series of ‘general function’ health claims proposed for use on food products.

Only few opinions are positive for sports nutrition. Among these 442 health claims, the most relevant are related to caffeine; in particular  health claims such as ‘Increased alertness’ , ‘ increased attention’, ‘increase in endurance performance’, ‘increase in endurance capacity’, ‘reduction in the rated perceived exertion/effort during exercise’ are now accepted for caffeine. Other positive outcomes are related to resistant maltodextrins ( ‘Changes in bowel function’), Choline (‘ Contribution to normal lipid metabolism ‘) and olive poliphenols  ( ‘Hydroxytyrosol protects LDL particles from oxidative damage’).

Instead most EFSA opinions are negative. It should be noted that all the health claims on ‘reduction of body weight’ related to caffeine and green tea have been rejected. Other negative outcomes are related to several aminoacids such as  L-Arginine, Lysine, Tryptophan and aminoacidic derivatives such as Taurine and Carnosine, particularly interesting are the rejected health claims concerning  ‘management of body mass’  and “improvement of endothelium-dependent vasodilation’ (Arginine),  ‘Contribution to normal protein synthesis’ (Lysine), ‘Maintenance of normal muscle function’ (Taurin). Also Quercetin, Lutein, Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA), FOS and PUFAs DHA/EPA (Omega 3) received general negative opinions from the Panel.

“The positive opinion on caffeine is important specifically for the benefits which EFSA has recognized within the domain of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, and the standard that it sets.” commented Luca Bucchini, managing director of Hylobates “Though EFSA’s opinions are important when thinking to new products, they should not be the only driving force. EFSA’s processs is welcome when compared to the less than transparent situation in several EU countries; at the same time, it should be noted that EFSA’s approach has been less than consistent between micronutrients and other substances. It is time for the sports nutrition industry to think carefully about the future.”

– Armand and Jacopo, Sport Nutrition Team –

EFSA: la caffeina per lo sport funziona, altre sostanze no

In data odierna il gruppo di esperti dell’EFSA ha pubblicato i risultati della valutazione di 442 claim sulla salute proposti per l’uso nei prodotti alimentari.

Solo poche opinioni possono essere considerate positive nel campo della nutrizione sportiva,  in particolare sono stati accettati claim relativi al consumo di caffeina e aumento dello stato di allerta/attenzione, diminuzione della percezione dello sforzo durante l’esercizio fisico ed aumento della capacità in esercizi fisici di resistenza. Gli esperti dell’EFSA hanno dato inoltre parere positivo per il claim relativo alle maltodestrine resistenti affermando che c’è una relazione di causa effetto tra il consumo di questi carboidrati e il miglioramento della funzionalità intestinale. Altri esiti positivi sono riscontrabili per claim relativi alla Colina (‘contribuisce al normale metabolismo lipidico’) e ai polifenoli dell’ulivo (‘Idrossitirosolo protegge le LDL dal danno ossidativo’).

Gran parte dei claim valutati sono stati respinti, tra cui i principali relativi al consumo di caffeina e tè verde che riguardano ‘mantenimento e controllo del peso corporeo’ non potranno più essere utilizzati per prodotti ed integratori alimentari, a meno che il processo a livello comunitario abbia un esito diverso e solo quando i pareri diventeranno legge, con lo specifico regolamento di attuazione. Nessun parere positivo per quel che riguarda i claim  sugli aminoacidi come arginina, lisina, triptofano e derivati aminoacidici quali taurina, carnosina: infatti i principali claim sulla massa muscolare, attività di tipo tonico e vasodilatazione sono stati bocciati.Numerosi altri claim sono stati valutati e bocciati, in particolare molti relativi a Quercetina, Luteina, Acido Alfa Linoleico (ALA), FOS e i PUPA DHA/EPA (Omega 3) generalmente per carenza di dati sufficienti.

“Non bisogna dimenticare che EFSA ha ampiamente riconosciuto i benefici di vitamina e minerali che sono i tipici principi degli integratori alimentari, anche per lo sport (come per vitamina C e sistema immunitario dello sportivo)” ha commentato Luca Bucchini, direttore gestionale di Hylobates “Per le altre sostanze ha usato uno standard di prova molto diverso e a volte discutibile, anche se riteniamo un processo trasparente e scientificamente qualificato come quello di EFSA sia importante e necessario. Il riconoscimento per la caffeina è importante ed univoco; sarà importante bilanciare l’effetto positivo dei pareri EFSA con la necessità di portare sul mercato prodotti equilibrati, indirizzando attentamente la ricerca. Su un piano più squisitamente tecnico è importante, che con l’opinione sulla caffeina, EFSA ha confermato la possibilità di claim sulla salute nel quadro del Regolamento 1924/2006 riferiti ad attività sportive”.

Le indicazioni fornite dal Ministero della Salute sul proprio sito, fino all’entrata in vigore di un regolamento applicativo (atteso per metà 2012), restano permesse.

– Armando e Jacopo, Sport Nutrition Team –

Aggiornato alle ore 18:03 dell’8/4 con riferimento al Ministero Salute

AGCM italiana alla Commissione Europea: non basta il Regolamento Claim, c’è bisogno di linee guida Europee.

L’autorità italiana per la pubblicità ingannevole, che è anche la società antitrust ha scritto alla Commissione Europea per discutere la tematica legata al regolamento sull’utilizzo dei claim sulla salute negli alimenti. La suddetta lettera non è stata resa pubblica.

Attualmente l’utilizzo dei claim sulla salute è consentito in base alle rigide condizioni del regolamento1924/2006, che coinvolge le valutazioni scientifiche da parte dell’Autorità Europea sulla Sicurezza Alimentare. L’ AGCM è convinta che il 1924/2006 non sia sufficiente e chiede delle linee guida a livello Europeo per le aziende, con l’obiettivo di assicurare un’informazione accurata e completa per i consumatori. Secondo l’AGCM, i claim sulla salute relativi a prodotti alimentari, già approvati dalla Commissione inseguito al parere scientifico EFSA, possono essere utilizzati in maniera strumentale dalle aziende.

I claim sulla salute- dice il presidente dell’AGCM in un comunicato stampa– utilizzati negli spot, alcune volte tendono ad enfatizzare la patologia o a banalizzare il problema di salute; tali claim non forniscono una corretta informazione ai consumatori, piuttosto esagerano nell’enfatizzare l’efficacia dei prodotti. L’AGCM ricorda che anche in presenza di claim sulla salute autorizzati dalla Commissione Europea, l’ EU richiede che l’uso di tali claim nutrizionali e sulla salute, non possa risultare ‘falso, ambiguo e ingannevole’. Questo è ciò che spesso accade , sempre secondo AGCM, a causa dell’uso improprio sia di testi che di immagini da parte delle aziende.

E’ fondamentale che i consumatori siano al riparo da pubblicità ingannevoli’ dice Luca Bucchini, amministratore delegato di Hylobates Consulting, che dichiara ‘ Il Regolamento sui claim nutrizionali esulla salute risulta rigoroso e completo in tutti i suoi requisiti, oltre ad essere sempre stato applicato inmaniera molto puntigliosa da EFSA. Esso crea una struttura che protegge i consumatori e reca un alto livello di sicurezza al business alimentare, che prima non esisteva. Di conseguenza, siamo convinti del fatto che ulteriori linee guida potrebbero solo creare più confusione e non diminuirla come si aspetta AGCM– continua Bucchini – La valutazione dei claim deve essere basata sui dati scientifici disponibili; il regolamento ha messo in chiaro che i benefici di una sostanza possono essere rivendicati per gli alimenti, e che in base a regole chiare, una sostanza o un alimento può portare uno specifico claim relativo a un benefit che altri prodotti alimentari presenti nella dieta non hanno. Ci auguriamo che AGCM accetti questi ed altri principi scientifici e legali consolidati e che possa lavorare attenendosi alla struttura legale attualmente vigente.

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