Munich. Undesirable substances in foods have long been a cause of consumer concern. In a recent survey conducted by TÜV SÜD, a large proportion of respondents (34%) perceived additives as the greatest nutrition-based risk – a good example of the disparity between the public and experts in the field in assessing food risks. TÜV SÜD's food experts explain how the health impact of additives is evaluated and what consumers can do to avoid artificial additives in foods.
In the current survey by TÜV SÜD, 34% of respondents quoted additives such as artificial colourings as their chief nutritional concerns; 28% said they were most worried about food spoilage such as mould, and 26% about pathogens like salmonella. Experts agree that food spoilage through mould or pathogens can constitute a high risk to human health, particularly on hot summer days; however, they generally draw very different conclusions with respect to additives, instead placing unhealthy lifestyles with excessive calorie intake and insufficient exercise at the top of the risk list.
It is unquestionable that in addition to containing a wide range of nutrients and ingredients, foods may also conceal undesirable substances with which they come into – often unavoidable – contact during production, storage or transport. The EU has a dense network of precautionary calculations, laws and directives in place to provide maximum consumer protection.
Maximum amounts and limits are applied to evaluate the health risks before additives and other substances are approved for use in foodstuffs. Dr Andreas Daxenberger, food expert at TÜV SÜD, explains: "A wealth of data from science and official sources are drawn on to evaluate health risks involving these substances, and thus calculate limits for them. The data are used to define intake levels at which consumption must be free from undesirable reactions. This level is then generally reduced by a safety factor of 100, resulting in a tolerable amount of the additive substance that allows lifelong daily consumption without harmful effects." This amount is also known as the ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake). Food safety authorities, manufacturers and independent testing institutes take action whenever there is a threat of one of these limits being exceeded, even if no acute danger to human health would result.
The requirement of declaration of additives is important for all those suffering from genuine allergies and sensitivities. The statutory declaration of ingredients on food packaging must be listed in order of quantity, so that artificial colourings, for example, are generally far down the list. Consumers can easily avoid buying products containing artificial colourings by examining the declaration of ingredients. A glance at these lists shows that artificial colourings are generally used only rarely today; in recent years many of them have been replaced by foodstuffs with the same colourant properties (e.g. paprika powder, beetroot) or by additives from natural sources. It is recommended, particularly in the summer season, to focus on fresh regional produce in the kitchen, thus practically automatically eliminating concerns about artificial additives.