Public consultation on nitrosamines in food: statement of the draft opinion

nitrosamines (more accurate N-nitrosamines) are chemical compounds that can form in food during cooking and processing. They have been found in various types of foods such as salted meat products, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic beverages. Nitrosamines can also be found in a number of other foods, such as: B. in cooked meat, processed vegetables, grains, milk and milk products or fermented, pickled and spicy foods. Some nitrosamines are genotoxic (can DNA damage) and carcinogenic (can cause cancer). EFSA’s draft opinion assesses the public health risks posed by the presence of nitrosamines in food.

Prof. Bettina Grasl-Kraupp is chairman of the working group for EFSA’s panel on pollutants in the food chain (CONTAM), which prepared the opinion on nitrosamines, which was valid until 22 November 2022 available in public consultation.

Can you briefly describe your work with the report? What are the main results?

First, we assessed the harm that nitrosamines can cause to humans and animals. Then we assessed the health risks for them population in the EU. We came to the conclusion that the diet exposure to nitrosamines is very likely above the level that could indicate a health hazard in all age groups.

How do you assess the risk from these genotoxic and carcinogenic substances?

When assessing genotoxic and carcinogenic substances that inadvertently enter the food chain, EFSA calculates an exposure margin (MOE – Safety margin for exposure) for consumers. MOE is the ratio of two factors viz dosagewhere a small but measurable negative effect is observed, and the level of a given population’s exposure to the substance. In general, a ratio above 10,000 indicates a low risk to consumers.

In our assessment, we have looked at occurrence of liver tumors in rodents as the most important adverse effect of exposure to nitrosamines. We turned carcinogenic properties of the strongest nitrosamine (N-nitrosodiethylamine or NDEA) to other nitrosamines to create a worst case scenario.

Is this assessment related to the EFSA opinion on nitrates and nitrites published in 2017?

Nitrites may be associated with the formation of nitrosamines. In our 2017 reassessment of the safety of nitrites and nitrates, EFSA’s experts found high levels of nitrosamines in meat products, but had insufficient information to link these levels to nitrites intentionally present in food.

What knowledge gaps are there at the moment? What additional information would you like to receive during the public hearing?

We are interested in receiving feedback on all aspects of our opinion, particularly on the exposure scenarios used to assess uncertainty when calculating dietary exposure. The uncertainty is due to the high proportion of results showing occurrence below the quantification limits and the limited availability of data to assess dietary exposure to nitrosamines.

How can scientists and other interested parties contribute to the final opinion?

The draft scientific opinion is open for public consultation until 22 November 2022, providing ample opportunity for feedback and comments. All contributions are welcome!

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