Food Safety is an Evolving Science

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 9,444
    Food Safety Expert Carl Winter discusses the evolving science of food safety.

    Carl Winter: Hi! My name is Carl Winter. I'm a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists and a Food Toxicologist on the faculty at the University of California, Davis.

    Today, I'm talking about food safety issues that deal with the presence of potentially dangerous chemical contaminants in the food supply. From the previous segments we've established that in most cases the levels of exposure to some of these contaminants are very low and that most health professionals feel that these risks are negligible.

    At the same time, we still see a lot of controversies. We see many stories about chemical contaminants there in the news, and there is clearly a lot of concern among the public. Why is it that we have this concern? One reason is that the science itself is not absolutely precise. In many cases, we have big arguments as to how safe is safe. Our general approach is to make sure that our typical exposure to these chemicals is well below, in many cases, thousands and thousands of times below the levels that don't even cause effects in laboratory animals. But, this is a very subjective call and some people will be convinced that we still don't have enough protection.

    In addition, we find that science is an evolving process. New studies may show up that might indicate, the chemical might be more hazardous than we initially thought, or in some cases it might be less hazardous. This doesn't change the risk of that particular chemical, but it does in many cases dictate that there needs to be more scrutiny about those risks. As an example, several years ago Swedish researchers found the presence of a chemical called Acrylamide in a lot of foods, particularly in potato chips and some bread products. This was a very interesting finding in the scientific community, yet, in fact, we're pretty convinced now that it's been there all the time. Acrylamide is naturally produced as a result of heating. It's produced because it contains a sugar and an amino acid that are present in a lot of foods. They get heated together and Acrylamide is formed.

    The US Food and Drug Administration does not consider it this time that additional regulations need to be in place to limit our exposure to Acrylamide. But at the same time, the US Food and Drug Administration does recommend that consumers eat a balanced diet consisting of many fruits and vegetables and grains to reduce their exposure to a variety of chemical contaminants including Acrylamide.

    In the next segment, I'll talk more about how the diet can influence one's exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals in food.