MEAL-Study What’s in the food?
For the first time, foods are analysed as they are consumed – The study by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment enables realistic statements to be made about the intake of substances, allows recommendations for consumption.
The project, funded by the Ministry, is the first in Germany to investigate systematically and extensively which substances are contained in prepared and ready-to-eat food and in what quantities they occur. The study is the most comprehensive in the world, both in terms of the number of foodstuffs examined and the number of substances.
Julia Klöckner, Minister of food and agriculture, commented: “What's new: for the first time, statements and recommendations can be made about food not only as a source product, but also in the state in which we usually actually consume it. Possible food risks can thus be better identified and evaluated. The aim is to make realistic statements about the intake of substances from food. Research is carried out over seven years and we are providing € 13 mill. in funding. The study is another milestone in strengthening consumer health protection".
TDS is a method recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine mean concentrations of substances in the average human diet. The first Total Diet study for Germany started in 2015.
The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) commissioned the BfR to conduct the study. The first German Total-Diet study is called BfR-MEAL (Mahlzeiten für die Expositionsschätzung und Analytik von Lebensmitteln). The study is scheduled to run for a total of seven years. For the first time in Germany, foodstuffs are systematically and representatively analysed in their ready-to-eat state, i.e. prepared as they are normally eaten.
Details to the MEAL study:
- For the first time in Germany the BfR-MEAL study examines extensively which risks can develop among other things by materials with the processing and preparation of food. In addition the finished meals are examined for additives and process contaminants, thus for materials, which develop with the preparation. For example, it is also possible to determine the average content of acrylamide in biscuits or French fries that are bought or prepared in the household.
- The study considers the entire food palette and analyses the food in the state in which it is typically consumed. Around 50,000 to 60,000 foods are purchased and prepared in a specially equipped kitchen. These samples are then analysed in laboratories for various groups of substances, both beneficial and undesirable. In addition to additives and process contaminants, these include substances from the environment (environmental contaminants such as dioxin), mould toxins (mycotoxins), nutrients, pesticides, veterinary medicines and substances that enter food from packaging. In addition, the extent to which the average exposure to substances in individual foodstuffs differs according to region, season or type of production (e.g. organic or conventional cultivation) will also be investigated.
- The average concentrations of substances in ready-to-eat foods are determined. The results serve, among other things, as a basis for identifying possible chronic risks from heavily contaminated foods. For example, consumption recommendations can be derived for sensitive population groups or with regard to certain foods.
- Since the BfR-MEAL study provides for the lowest possible detection limits in the analysis of substances, the results provide more precise data on background exposure than previously available. In the future, chronic risks, in particular, can be assessed more reliably for more substances. The results can also be used to classify acute risks, for example in the event of a food-related crisis. To date, many substances have not been detectable in foodstuffs or have only been tested in unprocessed foodstuffs.
To the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR): Through scientific assessments of health risks, the BfR contributes significantly to the safety of food, feed, products and chemicals. These independent and reliable analyses are indispensable when it comes to protecting the health of consumers.