Genotoxic smoke flavourings, the EFSA opinion

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Genotoxic risk for smoke flavourings

Smoke flavors are related to the risk of genotoxicity. Thus concludes EFSA, which evaluated 8 flavorings for which ten-year renewal for use in foods was requested. (1)

The diffusion of smoke aromas

Adding smoke flavors – unlike traditional smoking methods – it does not perform any preservative function. The only ambition of these substances is in fact to give the food a characteristic flavor and aroma.

These aromas are used in meat-based preparations and products – i.e. frankfurters, bacon and other cured meats – as well as in fish (salmon, herring, etc), some cheeses (i.e. smoked provola), fresh stuffed pasta and other ready meals.

How to recognize them

These substances are produced through a wood combustion process called ‘pyrolysis’. That is, through the fractionation and purification of a condensed smoke producing primary smoke condensates, primary tar fractions and/or derived smoke flavourings. (2)

On the label, beyond the incomprehensible acronyms of the additive authorization codes, the presence of these substances is implied in the wording ‘smoky aromas‘ or ‘aromas‘, or again ‘natural flavors‘, in the margin of the ingredients list. (3) Furthermore, in several cases, the labels of ‘smoked’ products are silent, preventing consumers from identifying (and avoiding) flavorings suspected of genotoxicity.

Risk assessment, the new criteria adopted by EFSA

The security of the same smoke flavorings now associated with a serious risk to public health had already been evaluated by EFSA between 2009 and 2012. But doubts about their safety had been addressed with the decision of the European Commission and the Member States to reduce their thresholds for use in foods, with partial disappointment in industrial requests.

The most drastic conclusions expressed in the latest EFSA opinion derive from the application of a new risk assessment criterion, introduced in 2021. According to this approach, if there is certainty of the genotoxicity of a single component of a mixture (e.g. smoke flavourings), the entire mixture should be considered genotoxic.

Perspectives

We concluded that six of the smoke flavorings we evaluated contain genotoxic substances and therefore cause concern in terms of human safety. 

For the other two we could not rule out safety concerns due to lack of data‘, explains Wim Mennes, chair of EFSA’s working group on flavourings.

The European Commission and EU Member States will carefully consider EFSA’s scientific advice as a basis on which to discuss appropriate risk management options related to smoke flavorings currently on the market‘. (4)

Provisional conclusions

Waiting for appropriate measures for the management of serious risks identified by EFSA, it is noted as the Flavorings Regulation (EC) No 1334/08 does not offer consumers the possibility of distinguishing products that contain such substances, which in fact can be ‘hidden’ behind the name of the category ‘flavours’ when the smoking aroma does not have a predominant role compared to others.

The working group dedicated to additives, at the PAFF (Plants, Animals, Food and Feed) Standing Committee, should engage with this issue as a matter of priority of importance for public health, rather than wasting time in useless discussions on harmless food cultures‘, notes the lawyer Dario Dongo.

Marta Strinati

Footnotes

(1) Smoke flavourings. EFSA 16.11.23  https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/smoke-flavourings 

(2) Smoke flavorings and flavorings on the label, says the lawyer Dario Dongo. DO (Food and Agriculture Requirements). 28.2.22

(3) SF-001 “proFagus Smoke R714” (previously called “Scansmoke PB 1110”); SF-002 “Zesti Smoke Code 10; SF-003 “Smoke Concentration 809045”; SF-004 “Scansmoke SEF7525”; SF-005 “SmokeEx C-10”; SF-006 “SmokEz Enviro-23”; SF-008 “proFagus Smoke R709”; SF-009 “Fumokomp Conc.” (formerly called “Fumokomp”)

(4) Smoke flavourings: Q&A with Wim Mennes, EFSA’s working group chair on flavourings. EFSA. 16.11.23 https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/smoke-flavourings-qa-wim-mennes-efsas-working-group-chair-flavourings

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".

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