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Development of an Expert System Containing Information on Levels of Accidentally Released Chemical Contaminants in Food and Non-food Media

Institutions
MRC Institute for Environment and Health (IEH)
Start date
2003
End date
2004
Objective
This research project aims to develop a prototype database containing information about the correlation between levels of accidentally released chemical contaminants in food and non-food media.

Initially, IEH will carry out an analysis of the FSA's requirement and the types of data and algorithms to be input into the database, as well as the general structure of the prototype system to be developed.

The design of the database will aim to provide a user-interface that will allow risk assessors to interrogate any applicable guidelines or statutory limits and will also allow monitoring data from an ongoing incident to be compared with previously reported values for food and non-food matrices.

The database will be designed to store the following types of information about each of the selected chemical contaminants in food and related media, which would be useful for carrying out risk assessments:

  • normal background levels in environmental media such as water, grass or soil or in veterinary samples such as blood;
  • baseline levels in individual foodstuffs such as meat, milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, and vegetables;
  • background levels of the contaminant consumed in the normal diet;
  • safety guidelines for a range of food and related non-food media;
  • safety guidelines for total dietary intake;
  • statutory limits for food, or other relevant media; and
  • physicochemical properties or other information that could be useful for risk assessment (e.g. for food chain modelling).

Where available, these types of information will be collated and entered onto the prototype database for a few representative well characterised contaminants, including PCB 126, dioxins, benzo(a)pyrene and mercury.

Validation of the system will be carried out throughout its development but a dedicated testing period will be scheduled towards the end of the project during which the FSA will have an opportunity to carry out hands-on testing of an alpha version of the database.

More information
In the event of a chemical incident that causes environmental contamination, the FSA conducts a risk assessment so that it can act proportionately to ensure that contaminated food does not enter the food supply chain.

Analytical data for environmental or veterinary samples can often be obtained more quickly than analytical data for food and such data can be interpreted as a surrogate for food monitoring data when assessing the possible risks to the safety of particular food products affected by chemicals released in an incident.

The Agency holds, or has access to some data concerning the levels of certain contaminants in environmental media, such as soil, grass or water, and the corresponding levels of these contaminants in foods such as vegetables, milk, eggs, meat or shellfish.

However, at present these different types of information have to be retrieved from diverse sources.

Therefore, in order to facilitate the risk assessment and support decision making, this project aims to develop a prototype database or 'expert system' containing relevant information on selected contaminant levels in food and non-food media.

In particular, it will include available information on the contaminant concentrations in various non-food media corresponding to levels that would be of concern in food produced at the same site.

Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the Food Standards Agency Research webpage.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project number
C06001
Categories
Chemical Contaminants
Dioxins, Furans, PFCs, and PCBs
Bacterial Pathogens
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
Food Defense and Integrity