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Breakfast at the BfR - with certainty!

01/2017, 18.01.2017

The BfR is providing information at International Green Week on the risks that can be concealed in food

The majority of people in Germany associate eating with enjoyment and regard food as safe. In several instance, consumers can also contribute in everyday situations to ensuring that foods do not become a health risk. Honey, tea, coffee, eggs, toast and cold cuts can contain naturally occurring ingredients or germs which can make us ill. The BfR explains how people can protect themselves from these risks through the proper handling of the various foods. BfR Stand 101 at the Adventure Farm (Hall 3.2) at International Green Week 2017 from 20 to 29 January 2017 in Berlin is laid out like a breakfast table where visitors move around between head-high breakfast utensils such as toast, butter, a muesli bowl and a coffee pot. They can find out all about the rules of food hygiene and test their knowledge at the BfR error fridge by filling it in the right order. In addition to this, they can spin a quiz wheel or play ping-pong on an over-dimensional piece of butter. For everyone who wants to capture their experience at the BfR stand for posterity, there are two photo booths in the shape of a slice of toast and an egg cup. Green Week simultaneously marks the start of the 15th BfR Jubilee Year 2017. "Never in the course of history has food been as safe as it is today. Ever since it was founded in November 2002, the BfR has made a successful contribution towards recognising risks and protecting consumer health," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

Herbal teas and honey can be contaminated with pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) which are formed by certain blooming plants as protection against predators. If bees gather pollen or nectar from plants of this kind, PA can also find their way into the honey. If components of plants of this kind are harvested as weeds along with tea, the tea can also become contaminated with PA. An acute health hazard from the consumption of tea and honey is unlikely, however. To be on the safe side, the BfR recommends that consumers alternate their intake of tea and honey, i.e. by regularly changing the brand and variety. As the consumption of honey can lead to the occurrence of infant botulism in the first year of a child’s life - especially during the first six months - the BfR advises against giving honey to children aged less than one year and especially infants, or to use it to sweeten drinks.

Coffee beans and tea leaves naturally contain caffeine, an alkaloid which stimulates the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. With high intake quantities of caffeine, undesired effects can occur, such as increased nervousness and excitability, insomnia, outbreaks of sweating and rapid heartbeat. The occurrence of these undesired effects depends greatly on individual sensitivity to caffeine, however, as well as the quantity ingested. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), individual doses of 200 mg do not pose a health risk to healthy adults. When habitually consumed over the course of the day, an intake of up to 400 mg of caffeine is regarded as safe for healthy adults. Where expectant and nursing mothers are concerned, an intake of up to 200 mg of caffeine spread over the day is regarded as safe to the health of the foetus and breastfed child.

When you toast bread, acrylamide can develop, as it fundamentally can too when you bake, roast, grill, deep-fry or fry carbohydrate-rich foods with a high level of the amino acid asparagine. The highest levels of acrylamide are to be found in potato products, such as crisps, potato fritters and chips, as well as cereal products like crisp bread, crackers and biscuits. It is known from studies with animals that acrylamide can modify genomes and cause cancer. On the basis of current knowledge, there is no "upper limit" below which a risk for the consumer can be excluded. Intake should therefore be kept as low as reasonably achievable. The acrylamide level of foods depends strongly on the degree of browning caused by heating: the darker the product the more acrylamide it contains. The rule of thumb is therefore "Don’t char it, lightly brown it", because considerably lower quantities of acrylamide are produced at temperatures below 180 degrees Celsius than at higher temperatures.

Salami, Mettwurst and Teewurst are raw sausage varieties, i.e. the meat and fat tissue they contain are not heated. The raw sausage is only cured by pickling, salting and/or smoking, drying and sometimes by adding so-called starter cultures (maturing). As the production of raw sausage does not involve a heating stage, it is possible that certain pathogens that occur in the animal find their way into the raw sausage via the meat and survive the maturation process. This means that bacteria (e.g. Salmonella or pathogenic E. coli), parasites or hepatitis E viruses can be transferred to humans. It is therefore recommended that people whose body defence system is weakened through old age, previous illness or the intake of medication, as well as small children and expectant mothers, only consume raw sausage after thorough heating, or avoid it completely as a precaution, as these groups of people are particularly susceptible to food infections.

In rare instances, herbal tea can also contain bacteria, such as Salmonella, which are killed off by heating. If prepared wrongly, however, they can become a health risk, especially children’s teas. Compliance with the preparation instructions on the package is therefore essential. The basic rule for herbal teas - whether loose leaf or in a bag - is that they must be immersed in bubbling hot, boiling water and left to infuse for the prescribed period. Once it has been prepared correctly, tea can be reduced to drinking temperature by adding a little cold water.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.




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