When does food constitute a health risk?

Friday 21 Sep 12


Christine Lydia Nellemann
Director of Institute
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 77 03


Ulla Hass
Emerita, Professor
National Food Institute
Our food products contain various nutrients necessary to us humans, but some foods might contain harmful substances as well. Before sounding the alarm, the authorities therefore need assessments of how harmful a specific substance might be. The tool is science-based risk assessments in Denmark submitted to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency by, among others, the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.

It occurs that food products may contain harmful substances. Therefore, science-based risk assessments are key tools for staying at the forefront of potential risks and ensure a high level of food safety for consumers.

Risk assessments include assessing how dangerous a certain substance is to humans, and hereafter, identify our level of exposure to that substance, e.g. through our intake of different food products.

Risk assessment is the scientific part of a so-called risk analysis which has spread internationally since the 1990’s. The reason is that, at the time, there was a widespread distrust of EU and its member states because of how they handled, among others, a BSE outbreak in the UK and dioxin feed contamination in Belgium.

Risk analysis also includes risk management, in which case it is the authorities, and lastly the politicians, who decide how to handle a certain risk. The division between risk management and science-based risk assessment is internationally recognised, but has so far only been implemented in a few countries – especially in Europe.

Endocrine disrupters is an example of an area in which the National Food Institute has contributed with ground-breaking research which has had significant influence on how future risk assessments will be carried out. Today, researchers not only measure the effect of one substance at a time, but have begun assessing the combination of several substances.

Read more

Read more in the article by DTU’s magazine DYNAMO: When does food constitute a health risk?  

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