Introduction And Definition Of Issues

Chemicals present in food may pose potential health risks to consumers in cases where consumer exposure to the chemicals reaches levels considered to be of health concern. The determination of acceptable exposure levels and the estimation of potential exposure to chemicals in food are the primary components of food chemical risk assessment. Regulatory decisions concerning the continued or prospective use of chemicals that may enter the food supply are heavily influenced by the results of risk assessments. Risk assessments also form the basis for discussions among food and agricultural groups and consumer and environmental organizations concerning the adequacy of existing regulations of food chemicals.

The contemporary practice of food chemical risk assessment is quite complicated and often controversial. Numerous assumptions are frequently required to be made in both the determination of exposure and the determination of acceptable levels of exposure (Winter and Francis, 1997). These assumptions are frequently derived from legislative mandate and/or regulatory agency policy and often lack a strong scientific basis. The use of differing sets of assumptions on exposure or acceptable levels may lead to widely divergent estimates of risk that frequently are disseminated in the public arena (Winter, 1992). Significant improvements are needed to refine the accuracy of food chemical risk assessments, and many of the present trends to improve the process are discussed in this chapter.

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