Sustainability and Circular Economy Lab

University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo


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Among the many needs that human beings have for individual and collective survival and development, food is one of the first elements that constitute physiological well-being (Maslow, 1943). Considering also the cultural, social and personal importance that food represents, it is understandable that eating is one of the most present activities in people's daily routine.


However, this familiarity with food can also bring risks. The consumption of any food can cause undesirable consequences, such as food poisoning or adverse reactions due to the way the food has been prepared, processed or transported (European Commission, 2000). Precisely because of this risk, the concept of "food safety” in the 19th century, coinciding with the emergence of germ theory and the scientific revolution, when research began into the origin of food-related diseases and how best to prevent them (Sessa, 2015).

So-called food safety, as defined by the European Commission in the "White Paper on Food Safety" - which contains definitions and strategies to be followed to ensure food safety at European level - includes "[...] the assessment and monitoring of risks that may arise to consumer health from raw materials, agricultural practices and food processing" (European Commission, 2000).

However, it is important to remember not to confuse the concept of food security -understood as hygiene and wholesomeness- with what is often defined by the same term, which involves the conditions necessary to allow people physical and economic access to safe, nutritious food sources that meet their needs and preferences (FAO, 2008). This latter concept can be understood as "Food Security".

As food hygiene and wholesomeness are the fundamental components of Food Safety, we will focus on this topic to provide initial basic knowledge useful for any consumer.


One of the main concerns when thinking about food safety relates to food in poor condition, understood as food products that are microbiologically or chemically contaminated (Nerín et al., 2016).

Microbiological contamination includes foods that contain pathogenic microbes that when ingested can cause more than 200 diseases, including typhoid fever, diarrhoea and some types of cancer (WHO, 2015); foods contaminated with toxins and compounds produced by microbiological activity also fall into this category, for example those that cause botulism when foods are not properly preserved: classic examples are home-made pickles or fruit preserves (WHO, 2018).

In the case of chemical contamination, on the other hand, food is contaminated by synthetic compounds due to the use of substances that pollute the environment, including fertilisers and pesticides. Furthermore, it is important to remember that opportunities for contamination can occur at every step of the food chain and therefore due to suboptimal production, storage, transport and preparation conditions. (Nerín et al., 2016).

These possibilities are certainly a source of danger, but there is also a segment of the population that may have adverse reactions when ingesting food that is intact and safe, due to allergies or intolerances. For this reason, food safety also includes clear labelling and declaration of the possible presence of traces of these compounds, so that people who experience a sensitivity to them can avoid them and find alternatives.


In the EU, the list of 14 food allergens includes the following sources of risk (EFSA NDA Panel, 2014):

Cereals containing gluten, milk, eggs, nuts, peanuts, soya, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, celery, lupines, sesame, mustard, sulphites.

It is worth remembering that safe and optimally stored food is not only essential for our health, but also helps to directly reduce food waste. In fact, learning how to store food in the most appropriate way allows us to extend its shelf life so that we do not have to throw away damaged food that is no longer edible.

A further aspect to be taken into account here is the difference between the words "Expiration Date" and "Best before". If in the first case it is necessary to follow the indications on the expiry date in order to be sure of eating a safe food, the second should be understood as a warning related to the quality status of the product. In fact, the product can be safely consumed even after the date on the label, but the state of texture and taste may not be optimal (EFSA, 2020).




In the current European definition of food safety (European Commission, 2000), it is not only necessary that the product is free of any possible contaminants or compounds that present a risk to the consumer, but also that all practices in the food chain ensure that the risk to the final consumer is minimised.

This approach, according to the aforementioned "White Paper on Food Safety", is the so-called "Farm to Table" approach, and is different from the approaches of other legal systems - such as the US - where the aim is always to make the final product as inert as possible, but without observing the conditions along all the steps of the product chain.

An example of this difference in approach to food safety, and its impact not only on consumers but also on international trade, is chlorine-washed chicken.

In the US, in an effort to ensure that raw chickens are not contaminated with microbes, they are washed with an antimicrobial solution containing chlorine. This is approved by the US food safety authority - the US Food and Drug Administration or FDA - and confirmed as safe for consumers' health.

The European Union, on the other hand, seeks to ensure that animal welfare and good hygiene and cleanliness practices are present at every step of the supply chain as part of its food safety policy (Farm to Table), thus allowing neither this type of process nor the entry of food produced under these conditions.

These different approaches can achieve similar goals, understood as the prevention of diseases associated with chicken consumption, but using different priorities and methods (Sheldon, 2019).


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