The impact of consumer practices in food safety: risks and mitigation strategies
Food safety policy is constantly reviewed in the light of new scientific evidence. There have been significant advances in consumer protection brought about by food safety legislation in the farm-to-retail part of the food chain. Examples include controlling the occurrence of certain food-borne pathogens at farm and retail level using microbiological targets and criteria, or of contaminants and other harmful chemicals by setting maximum residue limits and levels. The retail-to-fork part of the food chain, in the private consumer setting, cannot be legislated but may benefit from science-based policy initiatives. As regards food handling, logistics and preparation, both in-retail and post-retail consumer behaviour can substantially contribute to the risk from, and exposure to, certain food-borne hazards. This is the case in particular to those which are not effectively or easily managed earlier in the food chain, or that arise as a result of consumer practices.
An improved, consumer-driven, food safety approach requires scientific data on the impact of consumer practices on the risks of food-borne hazards. It also needs innovative strategies, technologies and tools to help consumers manage these risks and their exposure to food-borne hazards, while taking account of food sustainability. This should, in return, reduce food-borne disease and exposure to food-borne hazards. At the same time, it should contribute to the sustainability of the food chain and to improving the holistic "farm-to-fork" food safety framework.
Proposals should cover food-borne hazards and risks where consumer actions can help reduce risk and/or exposure.
Proposals should identify and consider different consumer risk-groups, taking into account socio-economic backgrounds and culture-based food handling practices in the EU. Where relevant, proposals should address gender-specific aspects, and the gender dimension in the research content shall be taken into account. Proposals should develop, test and implement novel and innovative strategies, technologies and tools to help consumers mitigate risks from food-borne hazards.
Interdisciplinary and multi-actor approaches are required. There should be input from the social sciences and humanities to engage with consumers in general. Civil society, consumer associations, the food industry and market actors should also be involved. Innovative and strategic food safety policy models, aimed at addressing and supporting the role of the consumer in food safety, should be proposed and analysed. Proposals should fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach'.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 9.5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
In order to reduce food-borne diseases and exposure to hazards, improve the sustainability of the food chain and improve the holistic "farm-to-fork" food safety framework, proposals should:
- help consumers mitigate risks from, and exposure to, food-borne hazards with the aim of reducing the occurrence of food-borne diseases;
- scientifically characterise the contribution of in-retail and post-retail private consumer behaviour (up to the point of consumption) to risks from, and exposure to, food-borne hazards, including due to logistical and food handling and food preparation practices;
- develop and stimulate market uptake using scientific evidence based approaches, tried-and-tested technologies and tools that enhance consumer-driven food safety;
- strengthen interdisciplinary research approaches and foster an inclusive and participatory multi-actor approach for long-lasting implementation of the results obtained.