EUROPE – Researchers have mapped out the supply chain of edible insects, uncovering critical points susceptible to food safety hazards and fraudulent activities. 

The study, shedding light on the burgeoning interest in insects as a sustainable protein source, underscores the need for rigorous safety measures and regulatory oversight to ensure the viability of insect consumption in Western markets.

While the consumption of insects is commonplace in over 120 countries, predominantly in Asia and Africa, Western nations have only recently begun exploring insects as a sustainable food source. 

However, as interest grows, so do concerns regarding the environmental sustainability and safety of large-scale insect farming. Challenges in scaling up production, coupled with regulatory hurdles and consumer apprehensions, highlight the complexity of integrating insects into Western diets.

To address critical gaps in knowledge, researchers mapped the supply chain of edible insects, drawing insights from literature, food fraud data, and interviews with industry experts in the EU. 

Among over 2,000 known edible insect species, only a handful are approved for specific food products in the EU, highlighting regulatory constraints and the need for further evaluation.

Microbial and chemical hazards

A key area of concern along the supply chain lies in feed substrates, which can harbor microbiological and chemical hazards. 

The use of food and feed waste as insect feed, while touted for its sustainability, raises concerns about potential contamination. Moreover, microbial threats such as Salmonella and chemical contaminants pose significant food safety risks, necessitating stringent monitoring and regulatory measures.

In addition to microbial and chemical hazards, edible insects present allergen risks, particularly for individuals allergic to shellfish/crustaceans and dust mites. 

The similarity of tropomyosin epitopes among arthropods highlights the need for further research into allergenicity and the impact of processing techniques on allergen potency.

Vulnerability to fraud

The study also highlights the vulnerability of the edible insect supply chain to food fraud, drawing parallels with the infamous melamine scandal. 

The use of the Kjeldahl method for protein content measurement, coupled with the premium price of insect proteins and increasing consumer demand, creates opportunities for fraudulent activities, posing risks to consumer safety and industry integrity.

For all the latest food safety news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.