EFSA: bacteria and moulds face new system for safety assessment
of Qualified Presumption of Safety (QPS) for the safety assessment
of microorganisms used in food production.
Microorganisms - bacteria, moulds, fungus - are used extensively by the food industry to produce a wide range of products from cheese and yoghurt to wine, vinegar and sauerkraut.
Scientists at the European Food Safety Authority(EFSA) recently examined a proposal to bring in QPS, a system similar in concept and purpose to the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) definition used in the USA.
The scheme was intended not simply to reproduce the GRAS system but, rather, to take account of the different regulatory practices present in Europe, says EFSA.
This was considered necessary since issues of importance to Europe would not necessarily influence a GRAS listing. An example of this given in the context of microorganisms was the presence of acquired antibiotic resistance factors, considered highly undesirable in Europe but less of an issue in the US.
The team of scientists at EFSA concluded that "QPS could provide a generic assessment system that could be applied without compromising on safety to all requests received by EFSA for the safety assessments of microorganisms deliberately introduced into the food chain. "
Its introduction, they say, would make more transparent and aid the consistency of approach across the EFSA panels; as well as making better use of assessment resources, by focussing on those organisms that present the greatest risks or uncertainties.
QPS could also have a role in the safety assessment of microbial products used as food and feed additives since the QPS status of production strains could inform and aid this part of product assessments.
Raising a note of caution, the EFSA committee said they recognised that the concept of QPS as initially proposed did not encompass those safety issues that are product-specific.
"Consequently, consideration would need to be given to product-specific data and how these could be accommodated within a generic assessment system," they add.
Finally, the group concluded that, to become established as a tool for safety assessment within EFSA, QPS status would have to be determined in advance of, and independent of ,applications.
"This would best be done under the aegis of EFSA," says the committee, that recommended the more commonly notified organisms should be identified and their suitability for QPS status determined.