EFSA explains use of its new food consumption database

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The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published an overview of its first Comprehensive Food Consumption Database, a new source of information on food consumption in the European Union, containing detailed data for a number of EU countries. The new database will play a key role in the evaluation of the risks related to possible hazards in food in the EU and will allow more precise estimates of consumers’ exposure to such hazards, a fundamental step in EFSA’s risk assessment work.

The database, which has been developed in close cooperation with EU Member States, will also be relevant in future for other fields of EFSA’s work, such as the assessment of nutrient intakes of the EU population. The overview includes guidance on how summary statistics in the database can be used by food safety and public health experts both at national and EU level.

The Comprehensive Database contains data from a total of 32 different dietary surveys from 22 Member States, including those obtained through an EFSA “Article 36”[1] grant focused on children’s food consumption data[2].

Summary statistics from the database enable quick screening for chronic and acute exposure to substances that may be found in the food chain. These statistics will be available to the public on the EFSA web site. In the database, dietary surveys and food consumption data for each country are divided by category; these include: age, from infants to adults aged 75 years or older[3]; food group (nearly 160) and type of consumption, covering both regular and high consumption thus allowing calculations to be tailored to each category of consumer. The statistics on food consumption are reported in grams per day, as well as grams per day per kg of body weight.

The food consumption database will also represent a basis for instance for the work related to the assessment of nutrient intakes of the EU population. In the area of nutrition, the analysis of dietary intake data is essential to help set science-based public health targets and to assess how dietary intakes compare with recommended intake levels, as well as to monitor progress over time.

The work on this new database began in 2008, when Member States started gathering data for EFSA from national dietary surveys in their countries. While this database is useful for EFSA’s risk assessment work, the data in it was derived using different methodologies, therefore making this unsuitable for direct country-to-country comparisons.

The collection of accurate, harmonised and detailed food consumption data at a European level is important for EFSA’s work and in this regard, cooperation with EU Member States is considered a priority. EFSA is working with Member States to develop food consumption surveys which will allow the collection and analysis of comparable data in EU countries. This initiative is known as “What’s on the Menu in Europe?” (EU MENU); several pilot studies under this initiative are due to be completed by 2012.