The level of food safety in the Netherlands is extremely high, and has been for many years. It is nevertheless important to remain alert to potential threats. Food can contain micro-organisms which may cause illness. Micro-organisms may enter the food chain for instance during production or during home preparation.
Foods may also contain chemical contaminants, some of which can be harmful to health. Such substances may be introduced at some point in the production process. Examples include environmental contaminants, residues of pesticides and residues of veterinary medicines. Finally, chemical substances are added to manufactured foods, such as additives and flavourings.
RIVM performs a number of tasks in the field of food safety. We develop models to determine food safety, and we maintain databases of relevant information. For example, we will determine the concentration at which a chemical substance will pose a risk to health, and how much of that substance a person can safely ingest. We also work on further development of methods for risk assessment.
In the field of microbial food safety we use a risk assessment tool called Quantitative Microbiological Risk Assessment (QMRA). This tool contains food chain models (‘farm-to-fork’) in which the prevalence and number of pathogens are followed.
This type of research is increasingly being undertaken in the international context for organisations such as EFSA and WHO/FAO . RIVM also researches food allergens, seeking to identify substances which cause an allergic reaction and the quantity of the substance which is likely to do so.
Based on research findings, RIVM advises various clients. They include the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) and other Ministries, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), the Board for the Authorisation of Plant Protection Products and Biocides (Ctgb), the Veterinary Medicinal Products Unit (BD), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), WHO and FAO.