Survey reveals food safety concerns in Germany; consumers urged to be wary of wild garlic

A German survey has looked at what food issues the population is concerned about.

Half of the respondents think that food bought in Germany is safe and 44 percent think that food safety will continue to increase, said Andreas Hensel, BfR president. Only 12 percent said food was not safe and 18 percent said food safety is decreasing.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment’s (BfR) consumer monitor looks at people’s perception of health risks.

Half of the respondents are concerned about antibiotic resistance and microplastics in food, found the poll which is done every six months. More than 1,000 people were interviewed by phone in February this year.

Less than one in five people were very concerned or concerned about Listeria in food while 15 percent were worried about food hygiene at home. Campylobacter in food and coronaviruses on food both had 8 percent of people concerned.

While 95 percent said they were familiar with genetically modified food, only 24 percent said they had heard of Campylobacter before, compared to 50 percent for Listeria.

Almost two thirds of respondents felt very well or well informed about food hygiene at home. Only 11 percent felt well informed about Listeria in food and this figure dropped to 5 percent for Campylobacter.

For the first time, the survey included questions on bisphenol A (BPA). The substance is a component of many everyday objects and can be found in plastic bottles, toys, and cans. It has been a topic of discussion for a while but only 29 percent of respondents have heard of BPA compared to 93 percent who are familiar with microplastics in food. Only seven percent feel well informed about BPA and 11 percent were concerned about it.

Wild garlic warning
The BfR has also warned about the risks of confusing edible and poisonous plants.

Wild garlic is increasingly popular for seasoning foods such as soups, sauces, and salads. When the season starts in spring, many people go foraging for the plant in forests. However, it can be confused with the poisonous lily of the valley and autumn crocus.

Poison control centers in German federal states and the BfR have recorded intoxications, some with serious consequences, often because of confusion. Cases are becoming more frequent in Germany but also in Austria, Switzerland and Croatia mostly in April and May.

To distinguish wild garlic from poisonous plants, rubbing a green leaf between the fingers is usually sufficient. If you cannot smell the typical garlic-like scent, it is better to leave the herb and clean your hands thoroughly straight away.

However, this test is not fool proof. Wild garlic gatherers must be familiar with the plant and all its features to tell it apart from its poisonous counterparts. The BfR advises that, if in doubt, it is better not to eat wild garlic gathered yourself.

Investigation of ciguatera outbreak
Finally, German researchers have revealed how a mislabeled fish caused an outbreak of ciguatera in 2017.

Six ciguatera outbreaks in Germany since 2012 prompted the National Reference Laboratory for the Monitoring of Marine Biotoxins at the BfR to work on detecting ciguatoxins in fish, even when the origin is unknown.

The testing strategy works for fresh or frozen fish samples and is suitable for prepared cooked or dried fish. More detail has been published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

An expansion of global trade in seafood is expected to lead to an increase in cases of ciguatera poisoning as more fish species from warmer sea regions are exported to the EU.

As part of a research project, BfR scientists and authorities of the affected federal states clarified a German ciguatera outbreak in 2017 that affected 16 people. Testing showed the outbreak was caused by two batches of mislabeled frozen fish caught in the western Pacific Ocean. Evidence of the presence of ciguatoxins was found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in leftovers of prepared dishes consumed by people suffering from ciguatera. The BfR detected ciguatoxins in samples of unprocessed fish from one of the affected batches.

Dorina Bodi said: “First, we use a highly sensitive cell-based assay test for screening, i.e., the rapid examination of even a larger number of samples of suspicious sea fish is possible. This test selectively detects the toxic effect of the target, ciguatoxins. If a sample is positive, the ciguatoxins are determined based on their chemical structure by a modern instrumental analysis in which liquid chromatography is coupled with mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).”

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