ITALY – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released a comprehensive summary of a recent foresight technical meeting held in Rome, Italy.

The meeting aimed to assess food safety issues associated with emerging food sources and production systems, including plant-based foods, precision fermentation, and 3D food printing.

The FAO’s forward-thinking approach, emphasizing medium- to long-term perspectives, addressed potential hazards while preparing for future opportunities in the evolving landscape of new foods and production methods.

The FAO’s foresight approach, distinct from predicting the future, involves structured, forward-looking methodologies to guide present decision-making.

The meeting’s focus on plant-based foods, precision fermentation, and 3D food printing underscored the importance of anticipating challenges and optimizing opportunities within these novel areas.

The FAO acknowledges that while current Codex Alimentarius standards are applicable, unique aspects of new food sources and production systems may necessitate further risk analysis, potentially leading to revised or new standards.

Plant-based foods

The safety implications of plant-based foods were discussed extensively, recognizing the diversity of hazards introduced by the cultivation, harvesting, storage, transportation, and processing of plants.

While offering sustainability benefits, new hazards may arise, particularly when utilizing plants not traditionally used for food.

Increased exposure to chemical contaminants, allergenicity from new proteins, and consumer perceptions affecting microbiological safety were highlighted concerns.

Research needs included microbiological studies, allergenicity assessments, and investigations into mycotoxins and environmental contaminants.

Precision fermentation

The field of precision fermentation, while not new, is rapidly evolving, introducing potential food safety challenges.

Safety considerations revolved around allergenic risks, purification steps, and variability in production scale.

Challenges in sourcing raw materials for feedstock, maintaining strain stability, and implementing hazard control measures were noted during the transition from laboratory to industrial-scale production.

Research needs identified detection techniques for real-time monitoring and further studies on allergenicity to inform safety assessments.

3D food printing

Despite being a novel food production method, most hazards associated with 3D food printing are common to other processes and can be addressed through existing risk assessments and hygiene protocols.

Hygienic design principles for equipment development and consumer education on at-home use were highlighted.

Research needs included understanding the impact of post-printing methods, such as laser cooking, on food safety and assessing how consumers interact with home 3D food printing devices and associated products.

The foresight exercise conducted by the FAO emphasizes the importance of staying ahead of food safety concerns in emerging food sectors.

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