01/02/19: EU plans specific hygiene rules for insects used in food

Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 sets rules on the hygiene of food of animal origin for businesses. The draft act proposes to add a section on insects.

Insects are increasingly produced in or exported to the EU and used as an alternative to mainstream food of animal origin. Insects and their products have the potential to become a major source of protein for human consumption in Europe.

Dead insects, parts of them and processed insects are subject to authorization under Novel Food Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 but there is a need for minimum hygiene requirements for those insects and live ones.

Insects intended for human consumption must be used for production and placed on the market only if they comply with requirements. They must belong to a species used for food, which is authorized in the legislation.

Specific requirements are needed so food derived from insects is safe and to ensure smooth functioning of the internal market by harmonized conditions for the production of insects intended for human consumption, according to the draft regulation which is open for public comment until Feb. 20, 2019.

This means operators would have to be approved by national authorities following an on-site visit prior to starting activities.

In October 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) adopted a scientific opinion providing a risk profile related to the production and consumption of insects as food and feed.

The agency concluded that for biological and chemical hazards, the specific production methods, what insects are fed, stage of harvest, species and methods for further processing would impact on the possible presence of such contaminants in food and feed products from insects.

Some of the issues raised by EFSA are addressed by hygiene requirements and procedures based on the hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) principles.

Commission Regulation (EU) No 142/2011 sets health rules for animal by-products not intended for human consumption such as the production of insects intended to feed animals.

The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) is developing a Guide on Good Hygiene Practices (GGHP) for insect production with publication expected in February.

The objective is to help insect producers apply EU food and feed safety legislation while providing an incentive for them to develop a robust food safety management system. The document has drawn on EU-based companies involved in the production of insects.

It covers all production steps, from the feeding of the insects, their breeding, killing and processing steps, storage or transport, to the final delivery of product to consumers. Use is voluntary and based on the responsibility of the insect producer.

A circular letter from the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) in Belgium covered the topic after entry into force of EU novel food regulation. The third revision, published in November last year, detailed a modified policy.

Belgium already had a policy allowing the marketing of 10 insect species but this would only continue if novel food applications were submitted.

Specific food safety aspects to be taken into account for insects and insect-based food for human consumption include during the breeding cycle, insect breeders must often remove feces and dead insects and regularly change the insects’ food and water.

A heating step such as blanching, boiling or oven drying is recommended as a germ reducing treatment prior to placing the product on the market and items must be tested periodically to detect the presence of pathogenic agents such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, according to the circular.

Considering the long shelf life of dried or freeze-dried insects, the number of pathogenic agents that can develop in them until the end of shelf life also has to be taken into account.

The label must also include the warning: “People who are allergic to crustaceans and shellfish and/or house dust mite may produce an allergic reaction after consuming insects”.

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